For those of you with multiple sclerosis (MS) who are ambulatory, getting a handicapped parking placard may not be a popular suggestion for many reasons: You may not want to give yourself the label of “disabled” when you are doing everything you can to keep going. You may feel guilty because there are many people worse off than you. You may be uncomfortable getting out of your car and walking into a store, as people might notice and say something about your functionality.
Let me urge you to rethink these reasons for resisting "the tag" if it could make your life easier. You have a chronic illness that makes daily life more difficult, either a little or a lot, but still poses challenges.
What Are Legitimate Uses of Disabled Parking Placards?I’m not encouraging you to get the tag just because you can. There are some very valid reasons for using the placard when you have MS:
- It helps you avoid being in the heat for longer than necessary. Heat intolerance can result in a temporary, but dramatic worsening of MS symptoms, including cognitive functioning and vision – two capacities that you certainly need if you are going to drive. Get the tag to use on extremely hot days to avoid trekking across the seemingly endless parking lots.
- It allows you to conserve every iota of energy that you have, since you can park closer to your destination. Fatigue is a big problem for many of us with MS, and we have to carefully ration our energy to do things more productive and fun than walking (sometimes slowly) across a parking lot.
- Disabled parking spaces are designed to give you enough room to maneuver a walker, scooter, or wheelchair and are located close to ramps. This is useful whether you use an assistive device all or some of the time.
Am I Eligible?The eligibility standards for being “disabled” enough to qualify for a placard differ by state. Some states are very specific and require that your ability to walk be severely affected by a neurological disease, or that you can not walk more than 50 feet without having to rest (some even say 200 feet). Other states just require a diagnosis that limits the ability to walk or use the lower extremities. Some just ask that a physician confirm that you are “disabled,” using his or her own criteria. Look up the eligibility requirements for your state and discuss the possibility with your doctor.
How Do I Get A Tag?Procedures for getting a tag also differ by state. Some states offer blue tags to those who require an assistive device and red tags for those who can move without assistance. Your doctor should have some forms and know what you need to do, which usually involves getting a prescription for the placard stating your diagnosis or a signature on a form.
- Plan Your Response: Yes, there may be people who glare when you get out of the car and walk into the store or restaurant “looking too good” to be disabled. Have a little sentence or two prepared so that you can be proud of your response. Think of something imaginative, like: “Thank you for thinking I look so fit. I actually have multiple sclerosis, so it is encouraging to know that I look so much better than I feel.” No need to start screaming about the nightmare of daily injections or explain the demyelination process in detail.
- Monitor Yourself: If there are days where you feel great and the weather is nice and cool, don’t use the tag. It’s that simple. It's useful to have it when you need it, but no one says you need to use it all of the time if you don't feel like it.