Unlawful Use of Handicap Placards

At first it was because “mom needed to buy groceries in Chinatown, and there was no parking other than the commercial loading zone.” Then, it was because “dad had idled in the 2 Hour Parking zone five minutes too long.” However, by the time “your older brother took the car out with his friends,” I knew better.
The laminated handicap placard is a tangible embodiment of various aspects of my identity; as such, through the years its symbolism has evolved with me. Its presence has changed from malleable plastic to bold statement; its use has gone from reckless privilege to respected right; and its value increased from dispensable convenience to lawful accommodation.

Just like any other child, I was concerned with fitting in – not just at school but also in my family. Aside from physical differences, my aptitude for language, reading, and writing always made me the black sheep. My parents are immigrants who not only struggle with English, but majored in physics and math as university students in China. “English will not bring you money. Numbers, math, and medicine are universal – why can’t you be like your older brother who is going to be a doctor?” For almost a decade, there was one singular act that consistently answered that question: writing letters to waive ticket fines.

Usually, it was my mother who would approach me with the neon-orange slip of paper, her entire frame tense, her fingers white from gripping the ticket so hard. “Please can you write a letter asking for a fee waiver? Just say I parked there briefly to drop-off my wheelchair child. Please? Your English is best.” By middle school, the tie between family and obligation had rooted itself. For ten years I said “Yes.” For ten years I watched as my mother relaxed, her shoulders unscrunching, the blood in her fingers re-circulating. Each time, as my ego expanded, she seemed to grow another inch.

Finally, there came the day when I should have said “No.” I was a college junior, fresh from a semester away in D.C. studying U.S. foreign policy. Junior year was also the time I became Vice President of Students for Social Justice. During the months away from my family, I developed a compelling relationship with the world that was grounded in international relations and activism. However, the selfless relationship I had with the home front was about to be rekindled. 
My cousin had been caught by an undercover police officer for the misuse of my handicap placard. Once again, I had not been present in the car. I arrived home for Thanksgiving break to a family insistent that I argue out of the $500 fine and the 30 day suspension of his license. Internal and external worlds, desires, knowledge, and self-expectations overlapped. Above me sat ten years’ worth of familial bonds and history, while below, a budding human rights advocate wanting to stage a coup.
That day I detested my seamless ability to express my family’s argument in writing. Each period ended more than a sentence. I saw my potential severed; I thought of the knowledge wasted in D.C.; I heard the silence of the voices I would one day amplify. As I finished the statement, I sought to comprehend and internalize the reaction I had towards my decision. I realized that every act committed results in either a loss or win for someone. Ultimately, the importance is that each win is sustained, and each defeat used to raise the standard for the next victory.

I printed out the document, and handed it over to my cousin as I demanded: “Never again.” I left feeling ten years lighter.

The "Perks" of being Disabled:
  • The point of this entry isn't to talk about whether or not it's "okay" or "right" to use your family member's disability parking placard. That's a choice each individual should make on their own. The broader issue here is how the benefits of disability are treated and used. I believe that the use of all of those benefits must be decided by the disabled person
  • If the disabled person is a young child who isn't able to make these decisions yet, older family members and parents should take the time to explain why certain decisions are made. I would advise veering away from making decisions because "you're in a wheelchair.." Aside from the fact that it's important to explain to young children decision making processes, in families where that child is the only one disabled, adults will also allow that child to feel less isolated by including them into the conversation
  • Benefits are first and foremost provided for the individual with the disability. Next comes their family members, not the other way around; though admittedly, I still struggle with this today
  • Many of my friends and others have asked me whether or not it was hard to 'break away' from my family on this issue. The answer is no. Although it was difficult for me to get my family to understand my perspective and how I felt about my role in all of this, underneath it all my family was fully aware that what they were doing was wrong and unacceptable. So when I decided to finally stop all of the absurdity I had to only reinforce what they already knew with how I felt; when it's against the law, it's against the law - I had that fact on my side 
  • It's also important to remember that just because you were allowed to use that benefit in previous times doesn't mean you should assume you will always be "allowed" or given that privilege in future situations 

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