by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A married couple took to Kemptville’s community Facebook page last week to express their frustrations over comments they received from a stranger in the Walmart parking lot, which they felt were discriminatory. The poster, who did not wish to have her name published, was parking at Walmart with her husband, who is disabled. He has back problems, caused by service in the Navy, including deployments to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. As a result, he has a valid disabled parking permit which allows him to park in designated spots closer to business entrances.
“He’s had many people in the past say things”, the poster told the Times. “Usually, a simple ‘did you know that’s handicap parking?’, is what he gets. He’ll say ‘yes thank you, I have my pass displayed’, and they normally apologize and it’s nothing.”
But what happened last week was much different. The stranger approached the couple and was rude right from the beginning, even going so far as to say that the poster’s husband doesn’t look disabled, after he informed her that he had a handicap parking pass.
The original Facebook post urges people to be mindful of invisible disabilities when they witness someone parking in a handicap parking space. “It’s demeaning and humiliating to those with invisible disabilities to explain why they’re justified to park near the entrance,” the post reads.
With several hundred reactions, and well over 100 comments on the post as of the time of writing, the outpouring of support from the community was strong. Nearly all of the comments contained words of support for the couple, with many sharing their own experiences of having unpleasant comments or glances when parking in disabled parking spots, since their disabilities are invisible. However, a few comments offered a different perspective, admitting that they do question people using handicap spaces sometimes, but only to ensure they are available for those who need them.
While individual municipalities set their own penalties for illegally parking in a handicap space without an accessible parking permit, North Grenville’s set fine for this offense is $325. However, it is not up to the public to enforce this by-law, particularly for motorists who have their permit clearly displayed. A person using an accessible parking permit has no obligation to discuss the nature of their disability with anyone, and, more often than not, attempts to intervene can do more harm than good.