Venturing into the outside world as a disabled female is sometimes fraught with obstacles. There are so many unknowns in my trips out, a lucky dip of pleasant surprises or unpleasant shocks. Finding a disabled permit park to access both boring and enjoyable daily life is one such hurdle, and can make or break my access.
When my kids were younger, the first play for the day was trying to access the permit park at their school. Used by the masses daily, and the masses did not have parking permits. It is important to note that the school made the permit parks clearly marked and signposted.
I have approached people and politely asked them if they had a permit. Most often not, and if I followed up with asking why they were using the disabled permit park, the responses were varied, sometimes brutal and others comical. Slightly awkward conversations contained defensive comments such as ‘It’s just a car park’, often accompanied by a sigh and a dismissive wave of a hand, or ‘I’ll only be ten minutes’, ‘but it’s the closest park’, ‘but I have kids’, ‘but it’s Friday’, ‘oh I didn’t see the yellow lines’ and even ‘I needed to check my e-mails’. Sometimes, drivers would completely ignore me.
I felt betrayed – and hurt – when friends would say ‘oh they probably didn’t mean it’ or worse, when people I called friends parked in the allocated permit parks. The regular users – non-permit holders – of disabled car parks was consistent at my kids’ education site. It’s disheartening and exhausting, to try and reiterate the need for access and why also parking across the adjacent crosshatch yellow lines disallows access. The marked car parks allow me, and others with permits to have space to safely enter and exit a vehicle, being the closest park isn’t the deciding factor.
I was relieved when my kids were old enough to walk independently to a few streets away, for me to pick them up, without having to try and access the school car park. There are times that I may be dropping my kids off late, or picking up early, and I do still experience strong feelings of anxiety approaching the car park.
Threads of hurtful irony remain and remind me, of not only struggles to use the disabled permit parks as a permit holding parent but as a staff member, sometimes unable to access my own workplace.
Up until the end of 2022, I also worked on site, at the school, for nearly eight years. Due to the progressive nature of my neuro-muscular chronic illness, my body was not able to keep up with the physical demands of such a busy and physical work environment. I still work, on a casual basis, for the school from home – an access need that has been met and recognised with genuine thanks.
Disabled people are not made-up beings of mythical fairy tales. We exist in everyday life. We drive cars, have kids, get married, work, go shopping and enjoy holidays. Part of being able to obtain a disabled permit involves doctors’ visits, much paperwork, and a fee. The simple act of using a disabled park in a school etc. sends a message that disabled parents, carers, guardians – and disabled people in general – are not real, but we most certainly are!
Given my bravado in approaching drivers to inquire as to why they use a disabled car park- without a permit – is a calculated risk. The risk of an unfriendly and unsafe response is heightened in the public arena. I am transparent in my admission that I will look at the pros and cons before chatting to someone.
The disabled permit car parks, wherever they are allocated, are not for decorative purposes. It’s not ‘just a carpark,’ it is a necessity. The permit park can be the deciding factor in someone with a disability or a chronic illness having to return home again without being able to undertake their plans to attend appointments, go shopping or drop-off kids at school.
I am a woman living with chronic illness and disability, with a determination to keep advocating for access. Access awareness is improving, thanks to brilliant advocates. I’m hopeful people will become allies by encouraging their children, friends, families not to use the disabled permit car parks, without a valid permit. Disabled people and non-disabled people can support each other in something as simple as car park access. Together, we’ve got this!
Plunging into the world of all things writerly, I am currently a student at Tabor College (South Australia), undertaking a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing and Communication. I am thrilled to be following my lifelong dream of becoming a published writer and my stories have appeared in such journals as the Stories of Life Anthologies (https://storiesoflife.net/) and a feature story on the Women With Disabilities Australia page, ‘Our Site’ (https://oursite.wwda.org.au/stories/slightly-awkward-parenting-ive-got-this). I am an Adelaide local, ambling through life as mother of two teenage children along with two cats to keep me grounded. I enjoy drinking buckets of tea, or a generously poured glass of robust red wine and admiring my many bookcases that house loads of books. I know one can never have too many books.