Yes, I know I am young and to you I look perfectly healthy sitting inside my car. I can see it in your eyes – you have already judged me before I’ve even attempted to move.

I bet you didn’t know that I get nervous butterflies every time I pull into that park. I question whether I should park further away; cause myself more pain but avoid people’s awkward stares? I question whether someone needs this park more than me. Am I in enough pain to use it? Do I have the emotional capacity to deal with the stares and sidelong glances? I know you don’t mean to stare or judge but I can feel your eyes on me. “What is possibly wrong with that girl?”

The truth is that parking close is not a perk and it’s not something I enjoy. To me it means that today I cannot blend in; that I cannot walk far without severe pain. I’m already pushing my boundaries by being out and about.

So, random stranger, just for the record, I was not ‘abusing’ the use of my permit. I saw you lingering around your car. I could almost hear your words before I had a chance to open my car door. You looked away once you saw my noticeable limp and the effort it took to get out of the car. Once you could see me struggling to walk, you got into your car. It was like I suddenly gained your approval once you saw my limp. My heart sank; I was judged yet again.

Do you know what made it worse this time? You were parked in the disability car park next to me! Were you in pain? Had you just had an operation? What struggle did you have to leave the house? Not that any of those questions are my business! Why did you think it was okay to look at me with judging eyes when you needed the very same park? My permit was visible so surely that should have been enough. 

You only saw me for a tiny snippet of my day. You didn’t see me struggle to get out of bed in the morning. You didn’t see me make the decision to push through this pain and go to the movies. You didn’t know that I had to choose between the enjoyment of getting out of the house and spending time with my husband, in spite of the pain, or staying at home and missing out on yet another activity. You didn’t see the medication I had to take to ensure I could remain as comfortable as possible. You didn’t hear me ask if I should use my disability permit today and you didn’t feel my stomach drop as you stared at me.

To get a mobility parking permit in New Zealand, you need to fit the following criteria and have it signed off by a doctor:

  1. You are unable to walk and always require the use of a wheelchair, or
  2. Your ability to walk distances is severely restricted by a medical condition or disability. If, for example, you require the use of mobility aids, experience severe pain, or breathlessness, or
  3. You have a medical condition or disability that requires you to have physical contact or close supervision to safely get around and cannot be left unattended. For example, if you experience disorientation, confusion, or severe anxiety. (Sourced from CCS Disability)

People generally seem to think that in order to use the park you need to be in a wheelchair and they are not aware of the other two criteria. Even on crutches, I have been rudely questioned by complete strangers about my eligibility to park in the mobility carpark. Society says young people aren’t supposed to get sick, right?

I have my own personal rules: I will not park in the bigger parks, as these are for people who need the extra room to get equipment or wheel chairs out. I will always look first for a close park that is not a mobility park and use that one. Lastly, I will only use the park when I feel I ‘really’ need it because of my limited mobility. It is never my first option.

I think I need to make the following statement very clear: Please remember that not all disabilities are visible and that young people are not immune to the effects of ill health.

I think it’s great if you question people who park there without their permit on display but I really think you cross the line if you start questioning when they have a clear permit on display. It’s not your place to judge! I might look healthy to you but you do not know the pain that I am feeling inside. Also I do not have to disclose my health condition to you so you can determine whether or not I can park there. I have already done this with my doctor. The mere effort of getting out of the house is hard enough so please don’t make it any harder!

Instead of those blatant stares can I please just have a smile to celebrate the fact that I made it out of the house at all!