Living with Pain: Handicapping the Disabled

Living with Pain: Handicapping the Disabled

In 2011 the Chicago Sun Times published a bit of a cloak and dagger article on the misuse of blue handicapped cards that allowed the owner to park for free, all day long at a city meter.

file0001548736253The story begins as a retired lieutenant from the Chicago police department set himself up in rotating disguises to investigate those who hung a handicapped card in their windshields or had a handicapped license plate; but when stepping out of their cars looked able bodied.

When he saw a likely suspect, he and the reporter confronted the person they thought might be breaking the law.

In checking state records, they found that in 44 out 82 confrontations the “handicapped” person using the card was using it fraudulently.

This staggeringly high number, taken on its face, would indicate that this was a failed program in need of drastic overhaul. However, it must be remembered that the numbers were drawn from a very small number of people within a limited geographical section of the city, hardly a representative sample upon which to make a drastic policy decision.

Further reporting revealed that since a deal negotiated in 2009 between the city and the company operating parking meters in Chicago, the city had been losing $55 million a year. The contract specified that any income lost to the company by illegal parkers or those using handicapped placards or license plates had to be made good by the city.

Once again, people were getting something that others could not, an illegal but special privilege. Not only were residents paying their taxes, but also feeding the meters when others weren’t, and then having to make up the difference through their taxes again. Residents and politicians rightfully howled.

A new state law soon passed the Illinois legislature and was signed by the governor, drastically restricting those who could qualify for a new handicapped parking placard.

The new regulations restricted parking placards to the following:

  • Those who cannot feed the meters due to the lack of fine motor control of both hands.
  • Those who cannot feed the meters because they need to use wheelchairs.
  • Those who cannot reach above their heads to a height of 42 inches above the ground.
  • Those who can’t walk more than 20 feet due to an orthopedic, neurological, cardiovascular or lung condition.

As someone living with chronic often debilitating pain, I want to howl.

So should you.

I want to howl at the jackasses who knowingly break the law and abuse a much needed program for those of us who are disabled.

In Illinois before the new law passed, 715,000 handicapped placards had been issued and another 80,000 plus license plates. Again, staggering numbers.

I have driven around the Loop looking for a metered space close to my destination and found space after space occupied by a car with a handicapped placard or license. The same happens in large parking lots, at grocery stores and pharmacies.

To realize that able bodied people are taking up spots so I and others who are in worse condition have to park in some distant part of the lot makes me long for vigilante justice. When people can abuse a system designed to make life a bit easier for the disabled, it is precisely the disabled who physically suffer, or give up and go home.

I have seen people older than me in bad pain hobble behind their walkers a few hundred feet to the entrance of a store, passing car after car proudly displaying handicapped cards.

But like anything related to the disabled, this is a complex issue. Many people who get out of cars displaying the card do look able bodied. I know there are many days when I get out of my car, slowly and painfully, and walk into a store looking perfectly healthy.

Once I had a cop follow me into my local grocery and stop me by the registers to question me about my use of the card. I couldn’t blame him because on that day I looked “normal.” What he couldn’t see was the pain wheedling across my back that was slowly sapping my ability to stand. As we cleared up his suspicion, I thanked him for his vigilance.

Many of the ailments that make the cards available to us are simply unnoticeable by people who don’t know us. This is one reason why many able bodied people make comments or throw dirty looks at us.

It would have been better if the Sun Times reporter interviewed a couple of people like me whose disability is often hidden. It also would have been a more balanced article if he wrote about the legitimate needs of the disabled for these parking cards. Not doing so reinforces the public’s notion that many disabled are faking it and getting something that we not don’t deserve.

While I certainly understand the city’s need to correct the fraud in the handicapped parking program, the measures they are using will certainly make life much more difficult for many disabled.

Those not able to meet the new requirements will, once they have parked for a long period, have to go back to their cars to feed the meters. For those with pain this may be prohibitive. Those using canes, walkers or crutches will also be at a disadvantage.

While these new rules will probably cut into the fraud, they are a part of a blow back against the disabled. It’s not unlike the abuse and diversion of opioid pain medicines – illegal behavior which is being solved on the backs of people the drugs were designed to help.

Mark Maginn

Mark Maginn

Mark Maginn lives in Chicago where he is a poet, writer and social justice activist. Mark suffers from chronic pain and was a longtime volunteer with the American Pain Foundation. His blog “Left Eye Blind” can be found here

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Rekha Naiidu

We have similar problems here in Kuala Lumpur ,Malaysia and it takes A Long time to get the pass. People donot respect us that the parking areas are for disabled people