Hidden Disabilities

Handicapped? Yeah, right…

I used to judge people who parked in handicapped spaces and then step out jauntily from their sporty car.  Most of these folks looked rich and entitled. They rarely looked disabled. Many of them, most likely, weren’t even handicapped. I mean, come on.  UCLA football players were caught illegally obtaining handicapped parking placards in 1999, so it’s not like this is a new thing.

But then I became disabled. Or, rather, I gained a disability, as technically I’m not disabled. And while I don’t need a handicapped parking placard, I have come to realize that my disability is invisible, which brought me to the thought that there are many disabilities that are invisible.

As I’m also working on making my world as much a judgment-free zone (because judging people without all the facts is a pet peeve of mine), I decided this is one thing I can discuss from personal knowledge. (Okay, not the handicapped parking placard per se, but the invisible disability part.)

Losing hearing in one ear is a disability.

Like I said, it’s not one that comes with a handicapped parking placard, and it’s absolutely nothing when compared with total deafness. But not being able to echo-locate can be dangerous, mainly because I still think I can. For instance, I can’t always hear cars coming on my right side when I cross the street, so I have to be extra-vigilant. I can’t tell where gunfire is coming from (and in many areas of America, that’s damned important), or which direction a siren is coming from. A crowded, noisy room gives me a headache and makes me talk much louder than I normally would. Plus I have to turn my good ear toward the person speaking, so I can hear them – which often means I can’t SEE them when they talk, which can lead to awkward social interactions – until I confess my disability to the other party. (Okay, that last isn’t dangerous; it just has the possibility of being totally awkward.)

Other “Invisible” Disabilities

Other disabilities that might not be immediately apparent and that could require that handicapped parking placard are described as follows, from the Invisible Disabilities Association:

The term invisible disabilities refers to symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments.  These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.”

Now, granted, someone with cognitive dysfunctions (for instance) probably won’t be driving a car; but the point is, there are disabilities out there that are not noticeable, and that may require a handicapped placard. Or, you know, some compassion.

So what the hell am I asking here?

Think before you judge. Pretty please.

Think before you speak your mind to the person popping out of her expensive car in a handicapped parking spot. This might be her first pain-free day in weeks. Think before you cuss out someone who doesn’t get out of your way in the grocery store, even though you’ve said a polite “excuse me”. This may be his first foray into the world after surgery (which can leave the brain muddled for months). Think before you make fun of someone who doesn’t look/act/talk the way you do. They have as much right to live a happy life as you do.

And if you see a woman about to step into the path of an oncoming car, make sure to shout at her and get her attention. She just might not have heard that car coming up on her deaf side. (My thanks to the anonymous gardener in Studio City, who made sure I didn’t lose an argument with a speeding SUV last week.)

Live a compassionate life, people. In doing so, you’ll receive compassion, which is something all of us deserve.


So, what’s one of your pet peeves? I’d love to know!