An article in Time magazine appeared about a month ago, entitled, “National Epidemic of Horrible People Pretending to Be Disabled“. The article goes on to describe how a growing trend is that of people faking disability in order to obtain the perceived perks of getting good parking spots, jumping the line at theme parks, taking their (non-service) dogs into restaurants and other public places, and the like.
People can apparently now go online and purchase fake service badges for their dogs.
Why is this a problem?
Aside from being ethically wrong, it makes life difficult for those of us who have legitimate needs, which are questioned more and more.
While it has never happened to me – I don’t drive – I have heard many stories recently of people with RA and other invisible disabilities discovering nasty notes from people left on their windshields saying that they do not look disabled and should be ashamed for abusing the system.
But these people are disabled. And while for some the disability may ebb and flow, it’s the real abusers of the system that are giving us a bad name.
While I don’t drive, I have had experiences in my own life in which I am questioned – if not literally, metaphorically – as I am sure we all have.
When I ride the subway or the bus, if it is possible for me to get a seat, I get one. My balance is pretty terrible and in general I feel more at ease sitting rather than standing. But I have noticed people sometimes giving me weird looks, like “why is she sitting?” Of course, if there was someone that was really in need of a seat, I would give up mine, in fact I would probably be made to.
I’ve also noticed people giving looks in elevators when you are only going up one or two floors.
In reality, it shouldn’t matter what other people think. It’s one liability of having an invisible illness and/or disability.
But the problem is, because so many non-disabled people have decided to play the system, it is making life increasingly harder for those of us who do need and have a right to such services.
In this way, I think RA is more of a social disability rather than a physical one. In everyday interactions, people don’t take, nor have the time, to get to know who you are and what your story is. So they assume things just by giving you a quick glance. And that quick glance can miss some of the most salient parts of your identity as a person.
Unfortunately, those of us in minority groups often find ourselves having to be ambassadors to the general public, to speak for our group. I think we need to raise our voices when people question us about our level of ability.
It’s nobody’s business but our own, but it has become everybody’s business because some people enjoy playing junior cop and think that they can catch us in the act. In fact, I would bet that they are actually more likely to catch those of us who do have legitimate needs as opposed to those who are totally faking it.
It really is a shame that abuse of the system has become so pervasive in our society that people feel it necessary to belittle those who truly have a need.
Have you had experiences in which your disability was questioned by others? What happened? What did you do about it?