Image: Judith Preston: “A few weeks ago I parked in a disabled bay at Tesco and was challenged by a complete stranger who shouted “Do you know that’s a disabled space?” even though I had my Blue Badge on display.”
More than two in five people with multiple sclerosis (MS) surveyed in Northern Ireland have been challenged by the general public for parking in a disabled bay – even though they’re eligible.
New research by the MS Society shows that many people with MS in Northern Ireland are being judged by complete strangers who appear to be ignorant when it comes to considering the lifestyle people with disabilities, can lead.
In the poll carried out by the MS Society of nearly 2,000 people with MS, more than two in five (47%) could think of at least one occasion when a complete stranger had challenged whether they were entitled to park in a disabled bay because they didn’t ‘appear’ obviously disabled.
In addition to this, over half of those surveyed (57%) had been prevented from parking in a disabled bay at all because of someone who was abusing the space by parking in it without a badge or blocking it.
Judith Preston (45) was diagnosed with Relapsing MS in 2002. She is mum to Adam (17) and Sarah (15) and lives in Stoneyford, near Lisburn, with husband Jonathan.
“I’ve been experiencing the painful and draining symptoms of MS for more than 14 years now. I get numbness all over my body, my limbs go weak and I find it difficult to walk. I’ve only recently starting using a Blue Badge because my symptoms seem to be getting worse.
A few weeks ago I parked in a disabled bay at Tesco and was challenged by a complete stranger who shouted “Do you know that’s a disabled space?” even though I had my Blue Badge on display. She was an elderly lady and I feel this is a classic example of ageism in reverse. She looked at me and saw a young woman. She couldn’t see the numbness and pain as I struggled to get out of the car.
People can be so quick to judge and it makes me so angry. I’d ask people to not judge people who park in a disabled spot. It’s hard enough trying to manage my MS symptoms without having to justify why I deserve to use a disabled bay”.
A separate poll by the charity of more than 2,000 members of the public found that almost half (48%) of people in NI couldn’t identify one symptom of the neurological condition which affects 100,000 people in the UK and can include problems with mobility and balance, eyesight, bladder control and extreme fatigue.
Brenda Maguire, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the MS Society, said: “MS is most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s and is a really unpredictable condition – one day you can be fine, and the next you could lose your sight or be unable to move. However, because it’s often poorly understood, living with the condition can turn a simple shopping trip into an ordeal where hurtful remarks can be part of daily life.
“People with disabilities rely on protected parking to be able to live independently. While they might appear to be fine, people are often struggling with severe fatigue or problems with their balance and mobility.
“MS presents people with enough daily challenges to overcome; the last thing people need is society to place further barriers on them, making it even harder than it needs to be to live life to the full.”
For more information about the MS Society go to: www.mssociety.org.uk