Sometimes things aren’t what they seem. Debbie Mizrahi, a brain cancer survivor, has experienced abuse from some Margate residents when she parks in disabled parking spaces because the injuries she suffers are not visibly apparent.
Her latest bad experience was when she parked in a disabled parking space at the Margate Winn-Dixie and asked a man staring at her and shaking his head if there was something wrong. He told her, “You have no right parking here.”
In reaction, she showed him where radiation treatment had burned away the hair on the side of her head and told him if you’d had brain cancer you’d understand.
Besides verbal abuse, she has found nasty notes on her car, bent windshield wipers, snapped antennas and broken side mirrors. It’s important for Mizrahi, 52, to park in handicapped spaces close to the stores because she suffers short-term memory loss and often forgets where she’s parked.
Because she shows no outward signs of a disability some parking lot vigilantes think she’s a fraud who is taking away a handicapped parking space from someone with a legitimate disability.
Wayne Connell, president and founder of the Invisible Disabilities Association said that this reaction is quite common. He stated, “I’ve heard of people getting keyed, getting screamed at. They’ll give you a dirty look. We hear this over and over and over. To be ridiculed while you’re parking – sometimes what people say hurts more than the illness.”
According to The Invisible Disability Association, the term invisible disabilities refers to symptoms that cause debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments.
Although these symptoms are not always obvious to the onlooker they can severely limit daily activities for sufferers. Some of the more common invisible disabilities are congestive heart failure, which prevents people from walking very far, lung disease, neurological disorders, lupus and arthritis.
Connell urges onlookers to not judge based on what we see or don’t see in 30 seconds. In Florida there are 1.3 million holders of disabled parking tags. The permit, from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, requires the signature of a physician, optometrist or other medical professional. These permits are issued for up to four years and expire on the birthday of the permit holder.
Of course there are some selfish and unsympathetic people who park illegally in disabled or handicapped parking spots or use tags that don’t belong to them. However, leave the enforcement to the officials. In 2012, legislature was passed requiring officials to conduct random reviews of permit holders and established a hotline for reporting abuse. Using someone else’s permit is now a second-degree misdemeanor and punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail.
If you see someone you know is not handicapped and is parking in a handicapped spot, you should complete the online complaint form on the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website, or download their form and mail or fax it to the address or fax number located on the complaint form.
Remember, the absence of a visible disability does not necessarily mean fraud. In the case of Mizrahi, she underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a cancerous brain tumor. Today she is in remission, but her short-term memory is impaired and it’s difficult for her to remember many things, including where she parked.
She has received nasty notes on her car saying things like: You look perfectly able to walk. You don’t need to be parking here. Let someone else use the spot.”
She says, “I can’t go out and tell everybody ‘look I parked here because I had brain cancer and I can’t remember where I park. It’s not right.”[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]