Tuesday, December 15, 2015

When I Encountered the Disability Police

I have read stories on the internet about people being questioned about their use of a handicap placard. I wondered if that would ever happen to me and what my response would be. A couple of months ago, that moment came and here is my story.

I was grateful to find a handicap spot open at a grocery store I was about to enter with my two children. Can I just say it's a workout to shop with my daughter Jaycee? Jaycee can walk, but we use a medical stroller for long distances. She has Down syndrome, asthma, heart problems, a lung cyst, and obstructive sleep apnea to name a few of her problems.

Pushing 100 pound child in a medical stroller and pulling a shopping cart behind you isn't easy. I had a cart full of groceries, and I was ready to head home. I packed my groceries and Jaycee’s stroller in the back of my van. I had just seated myself inside my van when an elderly man approached.

He tapped on my window, which I partially rolled down not knowing what he wanted. He said, "Obviously, you aren't handicapped and have no reason to park here." I guess he didn't see Jaycee's stroller nor my shirt that said "Special Olympics" both of which should have been clues.

I said, "You're right, I'm not handicapped but my daughter is." I rolled down her window so he could see she had Down syndrome. He then said, "Well I'm sorry. You can park here but you know people do park illegally sometimes. My wife uses this spots and needs them and I watch for people who park illegally. I saw you get into your van so nimbly I knew you weren't handicapped."

I said....starting to get emotional because I hadn't done anything wrong but this guy is still giving me a speech..."The placard is for my daughter. She does have a disability not to mention she's been in the hospital numerous times."

He started in on his speech again refusing to fully acknowledge his mistake. He asked if I had left Jaycee in the car since he didn't see her get in. I wanted to laugh in his face. I can barely leave her unattended at home; there was no way I can leave her in the van while I grocery shop.

Finally, I said something else like "Ok but I am legal" and rolled up my window and left, since he was still lecturing me about parking space misuse.

Then I got to explain to my six year old son why what he called a “mean man” was talking to us.

So what do you do when this happens to you? I struggled to find the words in the moment as I just completely caught off guard on a simple grocery trip. Should I write about it on my blog? That would seem like preaching to the choir. After some thought, I decided to write a letter to the editor of the newspaper in which this event occurred. This letter actually ran in two local papers. I’m hopeful that this saved another mother with a child with a disability from an encounter like this.




My 9-year-old daughter has Down syndrome. She has other health problems that aren’t noticeable. These invisible problems have resulted in 21 hospital admissions and a wish from Make-A-Wish.

In Mt. Vernon (last) weekend, I loaded my groceries and my daughter’s stroller in my van, which was legally parked in a handicap spot. The handicap placard hung from my mirror belonged to my daughter.

A gentleman knocked on my window, pointed to the placard, and wanted to know why I was parked there because I didn’t have a disability.

I explained it was my daughter’s. He said “sorry,” but explained how he finds people parking illegally and figured I was too. He told me how his wife uses these spaces, and he gets upset when he sees misuse.

I explained I was legal, because my daughter has health problems. This man insisted that people park illegally often. Honestly, I have no idea.

Being a speech-language pathologist for the past 11 years has given me a different perspective. I have worked with children who look fine when they actually have significant developmental delays or medical issues. The man who wrongly accused me is motivated by his wife. I am motivated by my daughter.

For that reason, I’ writing to remind people of the vast array of disabilities that are represented by the handicap placard. They aren’t just for the elderly. Parents who are transporting their children can rightfully obtain and use them.

Some disabilities are obvious and others are not.

Evana Sandusky



Jaycee in her medial stroller this summer.


1 comment:

  1. He probably means well but has such a focus on abled parkers that he can't deal with alternate and invisible disabilities. I think you might not be able to derail one track minds until you agree with them in some way.. 'Oh I sooooo agree how important disabled parking spots are!' Followed by the education, 'And I'm so thankful our doctor signed all the paperwork now because my child needs so much help with her medical gear/condition.' Points if you mention how difficult it must be to identify invisible disabilities and how you let the police deal with potential lawbreakers.


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