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Using Accessibility Features When You Don’t Look Like You Need To

Here is a story that many of you will relate to. My friend Alice went to a local variety store to shop, and took the one remaining handicap parking space. She hung her blue (permanent) placard on the mirror stem and got out of the car. As she walked toward the door, a woman she didn’t know stepped in front of her and screamed in her face that she was using a handicap space illegally. This woman did not need the space, she simply took it upon herself to notice Alice’s activity, judge it, and mete out her punishment—in this case, beating my friend with a large purse. (Alice did charge the woman with assault.)

Alice has lung cancer. She has a fairly easy time getting into the store, but she gets winded quickly. By the time she goes back out to her car, it’s a struggle to make the distance. She needs that parking space to minimize the distance she has to walk. She obtained her placard from her doctor and no one has the right to question her use of it unless they’re wearing a blue uniform.

It is incidents like this one that make me reluctant to ask for accommodations that I need. I remember waiting in a long check-in line at the train station with my bike, decked out in full cycling gear, and feeling like I was going to collapse in spinal pain. I looked around me at the frail-looking elderly people who weren’t complaining and didn’t feel like I could ask to go to the front of the line, or at least be provided with a folding chair.

Another time I was waiting in a line for a popular tourist attraction and an older woman collapsed from fatigue. An employee rushed to help her, and when she wanted to keep waiting with her family, he brought her a chair and a bottle of water. He asked if anyone else needed a chair and I wanted so badly to ask for one, but felt foolish in my cycling gear and braided hair, as if I had to look more frail than anyone else to deserve one.

When I go to Seattle on business, I don’t drive in the city because it’s just too much head-turning and fast decision-making, so I ride the bus around. Seattle buses are often standing room only. My hair is partly gray, with the gray parts colored purple for fun. I don’t look old enough for young men to offer me their seats. My balance is pretty good, but holding onto the overhead bar hurts both my arms and can lead to days of shoulder and back pain. Try announcing that you need a seat sometime; it will be the last time you do. When I ride the bus, I carry a folding tripod seat that works as a cane when flat. It brings out the best in other people.

My reluctance to ask for accommodation is made worse by my own doctors, who will not give me a handicap parking pass. The qualification criteria states that you must have trouble walking 200 feet unaided. Now, I can walk 2 miles unaided, but I can’t carry anything while I do. This isn’t a big deal at the grocery store, where I can roll the cart out to the car, but there have been times I declined to participate in events because parking far away and carrying or rolling things a long distance would have made it too hard. I quit a volunteer job when the owner of a building nearby closed off the steps from the employee parking lot that led to a trail that led straight to the door. I had to walk up a steep gravel road and then backtrack two blocks to get to work. With the things I had to carry in, and the danger of slipping on the gravel, it wasn’t worth the trouble. My condition isn’t stable and sometime I have bad pain days when just getting in and out of the car is a huge problem. I could be trusted to use the pass only when I really need to, but they won’t issue it on those terms. My doctors seem to think it’s amusing, and not in a good way, that I even ask. (I think they are fooled by the too-good front I put up. I make it look too easy and they think I’m better off than I am.)

There is a popular bus transport that I like to take up to Vancouver with my bike, but when we get to the border, we stand in line at Customs carrying all our luggage. My bike stays on the bus, which is a shame because I could use it to hold my loaded panniers. Standing in line with 30 pounds of bags is very hard for me. I want to tell the driver before we get started that I need to be allowed to cut to the front of the line, or at least be allowed to deposit my bags up front, but I feel weird about asking.

Is there anything that would make life easier for you that you’re afraid to ask for? Has anyone ever challenged your right to a seat or parking space?

Using Accessibility Features When You Don’t Look Like You Need To

Kristin Noreen

Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, Washington with two cats and her vintage touring bicycle, Silver. Her triple passions are animal rescue, long-distance bike touring, and writing. Her book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, is about reinventing her life following a catastrophic injury.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Using Accessibility Features When You Don’t Look Like You Need To. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Dec 2017
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