Most Disabled Are Invisible

Who Knows You're Disabled?

Does masking chronic illness invalidate it?

By Kevin RR Williams

HEALTH Circling the block, looking for a lunchtime parking spot at your favorite restaurant, you notice a car parks in a handicap spot. Out pops someone from the passenger seat who breaks into a trot alongside the driver to catch a traffic light. Twenty minutes into your 1-hour lunch break, you finally get inside and notice the already seated "handicapped" couple is being served. What's going through your mind? Neither sprinter even had a limp!

Rules vary slightly from one state to another but disabled placards are generally not limited to people with impaired mobility. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a handicapping condition exists if there is a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits major life activities. This includes walking, seeing, performing manual tasks, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. [1] Of course, some disabilities may prevent one from obtaining a driver's license.

Don't Ask. Don't Tell.

Ninety six percent of people with chronic illnesses or disabilities have no outward signs and may choose not to advertise it to employers and others. You're unlikely to readily notice the visual impairment of someone wearing contact lenses. Discreet hearing aids can be concealed by hair or head coverings. Those with back pain or knee injuries may endure discomfort without a cane or walker.

Invisible, or hidden, disabilities can also include chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, renal failure, sleep disorders, and color blindness. AIDS/HIV, ADHD, allergies, Schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders, cancer, and autism are also included. [2]

Ethical Questions

Just knowing that most people lack outward appearance of a chronic illness, disease or disability should be enough to prevent us from casting judgment. On the other hand, those who qualify for placards should not hesitate to obtain them. [3]

When parking spaces are limited, should the one with impaired lower extremity mobility or one that requires an assisted breathing apparatus receive the spot? Under ideal circumstances both would have a place. Fortunately, either is exempt from paying parking meter fees. The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids discrimination of any disabled person. Qualification varies slightly by state. Note California guidelines:

    You may qualify for a DP placard or DP license plates if you have impaired mobility due to having lost use of one or more lower extremities, or both hands, or have a diagnosed disease that substantially impairs or interferes with mobility, or one who is severely disabled to be unable to move without the aid of an assistive device. You may also qualify if you have specific, documented visual problems, including lower-vision or partial-sightedness. [4]

It is not uncommon for those with handicaps to have someone else drive them around town. So try not to get angry with the visually impaired passenger that ran across the street and took your table at the restaurant.

  1. Classifying Disabilities. ^
  2. Invisible Disabilities Information. ^
  3. Handicapped Parking Permit - State-by-State Requirements. ^
  4. Disabled Person Parking Placard or License Plates. ^
  5. Image by FugeSpot licensed from iStock Photo.