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Accessibility: A Right, Not a Privilege

By: Kristen Millar

I took my son to yet another appointment at his paediatrician’s office today. I was ecstatic that we were able to score one of the few accessible parking spaces outside of the medical building. This never happens. I  had left his stroller at home because we were running late, so this was a very welcome surprise. After our appointment, I strapped E back into his car seat as I updated my parents over a video call and that’s when I saw him glare. I thought maybe I was being overly sensitive, which is typical of me, but my initial suspicions were confirmed as I watched the gentlemen, another accessible parking permit holder, drive by slowly shaking his head. We made eye contact for quite some time. There was no question, the glares were directed at me. 

I quickly informed my parents about what was transpiring and told them I had to let them go. My dad used some hand gestures and for your reference, he was not communicating in ASL. My Mom told me it was likely not worth my energy. As you may have guessed, my parents have always dealt with things very differently. I picked somewhere in between. I had to keep my cool but I couldn’t let it go either.


E was only eight months old, but I often wondered if he would walk. At our next appointment, I asked the medical professional if parents of kids with Down Syndrome ever pursue an accessible parking permit in the circumstance their child’s ability to walk was significantly ‘delayed.’ My concerns were quickly dismissed and I was informed that a pass would be unnecessary because kids with Down syndrome often walk. I knew E would very likely walk but I also knew that gross motor had always been a significant challenge for him. I wondered how long I would be able to tote him around, particularly with an unstable knee. I felt guilty for asking. Their response made me feel like I was trying to take advantage of the system. 


As I waited by my car, an older couple walked by. They too, had an accessible parking permit. I was so upset that I just spilled. Again, this is very typical of me. For some reason, I felt the need to prove the legitimacy of my son’s permit. One simple glare had ripped me backwards and I felt like the girl in the appointment. Except, I’m not. In fact, I’m not even close. The lady looked at me sorrowfully and admitted that she had been questioning my use of the permit as well. She said, “you know, sometimes I wonder if these passes are even worth the hassle” and I responded with “…but they are. It is hard when people make assumptions based on someone’s appearance. Disability is not always visible and what’s even more interesting is that my son has a visible disability.” I explained that this was not my first experience being on the receiving end of dirty looks for this very reason. It actually happened all of the time and I was over it. As E smiled and waved at her through the window, she apologized to me while blowing him a kiss. She promised that she would not make the same assumptions in the future. The truth is that we are all guilty of making assumptions, myself included. This experience served as a reminder to the both of us that we must always challenge our preconceptions. 

As they walked away, I felt better and I was ready to address Mr. Glares. I again explained that the use of my pass was legitimate. His disgruntled face settled and he held his hands up in surrender replying “If you have a permit, it is legitimate. I didn’t see it in your window.” Mission accomplished.

E is now three and a half years old and although he took his first few steps (completely unassisted) last week, he is still not walking. That’s OK and it’s also OK that we have an accessible parking permit. Addressing the barriers and injustices external to our community has always been such a monumental task that I think we often forget about the barriers and injustices that exist within it. Accessibility cannot not be reduced or overly simplified. Barriers are not strictly physical, they can be intellectual, emotional, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Barriers are a result of the environment, not the individual and the need to address them may be temporary, permanent or intermittent. Please note that these lists are not exhaustive. I will leave you with this...accessibility is a right, not a privilege. Shout out to my accessible parking permit holders facing challenges!


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