Monday, January 17, 2011

Tagged, Redux

I've circled back to blogging about tagging several times now. My first Tagged post was about Joy's Project Lifesaver radio tag, for tracking purposes in case she wanders. (Now that she's in kindergarten, we're extra-glad to have that safeguard.) Just lately, I succumbed to the lure of tagging via blog-meme.

Our latest new form of tag in the JoyFamily is a disability hang-tag for access to priority parking spaces.

Parking lot safety for Joy has long been a concern of ours, but the possibility of a hang-tag didn't really click for me until I had a conversation with Joy's special educator about dropping Joy off at the start of the school day. I've got my work-schedule arranged so as to be able to do both drop-off and pickup for the girls at school, so we aren't taking advantage of the "short bus" that drops kids right by the back door. If you don't bus, parental drop-off is on the far side of a busy street, with a walk either up or down-hill to the crossing guard. As an alternative, Joy's special educator mentioned that some parents do a quick drop-off in the handicap spots. Of course, for that you need official dispensation.

Earlier in our journey I'd have had more of an internal debate. ("But she's not handicapped -- she's just delayed a little -- we don't really need this -- why mark her as more different than she already is" -- etc.) At this point, though, I've learned to agonize less over taking advantage of available resources and designations that can make our lives easier. The application for the tags was a simple form, just a download away. It needed a physician's approval, which Joy's doctor gave easily on request. Two hang tags soon arrived in the mail, one for each car's glove compartment.

So far, I have used them sparingly: only at school, and only at drop-off. In general I'd prefer to have Joy learn to walk with me and her sister and the other kids. Sometimes we make it the whole 15-minute walk home! However, if there's rain and puddles, or new snow, the walk becomes too much of a stimmy distracted battle. It's exhausting, not entirely safe, and sets up a miserable mood for turning Joy over to school staff. So on those days, out comes the tag and we drive practically up to the door.

I haven't yet used the tag in a public parking lot yet, but I sure feel better knowing we have the option. Parking lots can be scary-rough -- there was a set of helpful parking-lot tips the other day at Stuart Duncan's blog with suggestions for the situation. (I added the hang-tag suggestion in the comments!)

It has crossed my mind that, with Joy's invisible disability, we might come in for some pushback from the self-appointed parking lot police -- the folks who see fit to call challenge if they see someone they don't think looks disabled get out of a car in a handicap-accessible spot. I was reminded of this yesterday when Rachel posted at Journeys with Autism about the barrage of doubt and disbelief that people with invisible disabilities often face. She mentioned one woman who developed a snappy comeback for the doubters: when someone issued a "you don't look disabled" parking lot challenge, she'd fire back, "And you don't look like a doctor!" (Rachel's post and the comments were much more detailed and nuanced than this little example; well worth the read.)

I gave a quick delighted high-five in the comments about that comeback -- it's so the perfect response that you wish you'd thought of at the time! I've been re-thinking my enthusiasm somewhat, though. It strikes me that if any parking lot pushback were to come our way, I'd rather be prepared with a gentle, educational answer than a snappy zinger. That way if the challenger turns out to be a well-meaning soul and open to new ideas, I might be able to send them away thoughtful rather than cranky/defensive. And if they really deserved the edgy comeback after all -- well, then I'll have been nicer to them than they deserved. Which wouldn't be so bad.

I should make clear that my re-thinking is in no way meant as a prescription for how I think everyone ought to react to a parking lot challenge. Just my own thoughts and planned approach. A person with an invisible disability who has had it up to HERE with spending precious energy trying to educate people who won't listen anyway -- may well choose a different approach entirely.

The snow has been falling all day today. Glad we've got that hang-tag for tomorrow.


Professor Mother said...

It's hard for US to accept that maybe we need a little extra help- and we're in the situation. I can see where a little education is good- but a quick come-back is always helpful too for those "Don't you see that I'm struggling here?" days...

Andrea said...

Another reason I wish I could come back to my college home, Wisconsin! I tried to get one of these years ago and Calif. denied me:( lucky duck.Thanks for your comment the other day. I am so glad my daughter got me the whole Message. We are reading through it 5 pp./day and we should finish before she leaves for college! My husband and Reid listen in and it is so fresh in the modern translation. Hope you get one too:)

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Hi JoyMama,

So glad you got the placard. It's always good to have a backup plan when you need it!

I saw your followup regarding what to say to the placard parking police on my blog post. I posted a response there, but I thought I'd post it here as well:

I think you're right: the snappy comeback is really for when we don't have the energy to turn an annoyance into an educational opportunity. Sometimes, I'm glad to try to enlighten people; despite the fact that people often have a disappointing response, I have almost limitless faith in the capacity of human beings to listen and learn. Lately, though, with the precipitous downhill slide of my auditory abilities, I'm feeling the need to focus on other areas--like conserving energy for when I need it the most. It's tough to say no to these opportunities, because I've tried to educate people for so long, but I've recently realized that being disabled doesn't mean that I have to be a traveling disability workshop. That's a tough choice for me, but it's becoming more and more necessary. I can do my educating in other ways.

JoyMama said...

Professor Mother -- yes, the "right" response definitely varies with the situation -- and there are lots of aspects to the situation.

Andrea -- UW? :-) Sorry to hear the parking application was denied. I wonder which states in general are easiest and hardest. And re my comment on your blog, the "soft answer" scripture rather fits the gentler response to parking-lot police, doesn't it? (How does The Message translate Proverbs 15:1?)

JoyMama said...

Rachel -- Thanks for sparking the second half of this post, and for responding both on your own blog and here!

"Traveling disability workshop" -- wonderfully descriptive.

Lynn said...

Glad that you got the tags! My mother has one and always feels obligated to exaggerate her limp when exiting the car. I can't believe that anyone would say anything!

Floortime Lite Mama said...

LOVE the response from Rachel's blog - must go and read that lovely lady's post
I feel exactly like you do and I am glad you decided to go with the tag

JoyMama said...

Lynn -- one would like to think that people wouldn't mind others' business like that! but I suppose it's easy for some folks to get self-righteous when they think they see some un-deserving person cheating with the good parking spots. (And in their defense, it would be way easy to cheat. For example, only my good law-abiding character is stopping me from using the placard when I go shopping alone...)

K - hope you did get to Rachel's post. Very important perspective!

Kelly said...

Glad you got the placard!
The soft vs. snappy response thoughts are applicable in so many areas outside of disability too...good thoughts! We often get comments about our family size. I'm prone to the snappy, while my hubby is often much softer in response.

As an aside, this...
"I've learned to agonize less over taking advantage of available resources and designations that can make our lives easier."
This really resonates with me and is a good way to sum up some of my jumbled thoughts on why we finally decided to start pursuing help/diagnosis for our boys.

(one of these days, I'll learn to leave shorter, less long-winded comments...)

Anonymous said...

The turnabout of "educating" others about an invisible disability is that some will not hassle you but assume you are the handicapped one and show you the deference your auto tag stakes claim to. Sometimes the less said to strangers, the better. After all, taking the guff personally instead of subjecting your daughter could mean a creepy stranger would not try to take advantage of Joy in the rare instant your attention was distracted. And it is well to remember that everyone has invisible disabilities. Everyone!

JoyMama said...

Kelly - I generally see long comments as a compliment -- it means that I've caused people to have a lot to say!

Anonymous - I suppose that if one thought of disability in broad enough terms, one could argue for the universality of invisible disabilities -- but they surely don't all qualify for parking priority, or what would be the point of the reserved spaces in the first place? In terms of provoking a creepy response, I'd almost be more worried about using the snappy comeback. For my gentle educational response I was actually thinking along the lines of "Not all disabilities are things you can tell just by looking." Which wouldn't give anything away at all.