Amber Gillett “ Just because I have an invisible condition doesn’t mean you can degrade me.”

By Stephen Pate – There are a rash of ugly incidents involving disabled parking in the news this week.

Just as reactions to racism or sexism may be conflicted, accessible parking conflicts may point to averse discrimination against people with disabilities.

This week in Ottawa, a woman with a valid disability parking sticker was harassed by by a supposed concerned citizen.

Featured image photo credit – Photo Errol McGihon Postmedia News

“Stupidity is not a disability!” read the large sticker someone plastered across her windshield Friday, despite the handicapped parking permit clipped to the visor. “Park elsewhere.” (National Post – Woman with ‘invisible’ disability hassled for using handicap parking

The sticker that someone plastered on Amber Gillett's windshield. (National Post / Facebook photo)

The sticker that someone plastered on Amber Gillett’s windshield. (National Post / Facebook photo)

The 22-year-old woman had a valid accessible parking permit but the disability parking vigilante plastered her car with a nasty poster anyway.

Apparently the woman living with a disability didn’t look disabled enough. Obviously the perpetrator was hunting for opportunities to harass people since he or she came ready with a pre-printed poster.

There is a Facebook group for people who want to harass people who park in disabled parking – WheelsofShame – and a website, presumably where the posters originated.

In a related story, a man with a smartphone video harassed a woman to Tim Horton’s in what became a case of assault by cappuccino. CBC Woman gets police warning for pitching coffee cups at man and parking in disabled spot

Why the vigilante justice for disabled parking?

These cases beg the question: why are people taking it into their own hands to police disabled parking?

Do people go to the same lengths to make sure all people buying alcohol are of legal age? Do people check other people’s cars for expired parking meters? Or do private citizens have radar guns to find speeders?

Probably not. Targeting disabled parking for citizen policing hints at darker motives that include jealousy and averse discrimination.

Everyone wants the best parking spot. People are naturally jealous of anyone who goes to the front of the line and gets the best spots. Are they rich and entitled? In the case of disabled parking, no one wants to admit they dislike the preferential treatment for the disabled so they use other reasons to disguise their true emotions.

Consider disability bigotry or discrimination in the context of racism or sexism. A recent commentary on the visceral reaction to Hillary Clinton shows how we can hide our discrimination when it conflicts with more “egalitarian principles”.

“There is a concept in the study of racial prejudice, called aversive racism, which is particularly instructive in helping to explain the visceral nature of some responses to Hillary Clinton. According to research published in Psychological Science,

 …many people who explicitly support egalitarian principles and believe themselves to be non-prejudiced also unconsciously harbor negative feelings and beliefs about blacks and other historically disadvantaged groups. Aversive racists thus experience ambivalence between their egalitarian beliefs and their negative feelings toward blacks.” 3 Ways to Tell if Your Distaste For Hillary Clinton is Sexist MS Blog 

Because people understand that equality is optimal, behavior and perspectives that support unequal outcomes for blacks are to be avoided, and are damaging to how people think of themselves. As a result, prejudicial behavior will emerge as “often unintentional, when their behavior can be justified on the basis of some factor other than race.” This allows aversive racists to continue to see themselves as nonracist while simultaneously engaging in racially prejudicial behavior. Simply put, when there is no doubt that one’s behavior will be seen as racist, aversive racists avoid that behavior.

No one is going to admit openly to discrimination against people with disabilities since they are a “protected” group in society, like widows and orphans. However, as we believe orphans should be protected, many of our attitudes and laws towards them are negative.

It’s probably best if we leave enforcing the disabled parking laws to the police to avoid harassing the disabled or public confrontations.

The City of Toronto issues 12,000 tickets each year for violation of disabled parking laws. Toronto Star. No doubt more can be done but that is true of all law infractions. Taking the law into our own hands is never a good idea.

As a footnote, it would be nice if the media could get with the times and stop referring to the people with disabilities as handicapped, as in handicap parking. That’s so 50’s. The term is “accessible parking”