Since a life-changing accident in 2013, I have struggled with my physical and mental well-being.
I’m not a wheelchair user, but I do have a walking aid - a Rollator, that has wheels, and brakes fitted to the handles - which I use to support myself when out walking. There are several brilliant things about my Rollator – one: it’s fitted with a seat, so I always have somewhere to sit. Two: under the seat, I can store light shopping and my handbag. Three: It’s lightweight and folds up flat, like a child’s buggy.
However, one small blue, rectangular piece of plastic has transformed our lives – I mean, me and my husband, and full-time carer, Joe Carroll – a Disability Parking disc. It sits snuggly in a plastic pouch, stuck to the bottom left-hand corner of the front windscreen of our van, and it entitles us to legally park in a designated disability parking space.
We never abuse our parking disc, if Joe is alone or if I’m with him, but I’m not getting out of the vehicle, then he parks in a regular space. Even when we’ve parked in a disabled parking space, Joe always asks me, “Are you coming in? D’you feel up to it?” And sometimes, despite my earlier good intentions, my apologetic reply is, “Actually, no, I’m not up to it after all.”
Therefore, every now and then, I end up staying put, in our van, parked in one of those designated blue spaces.
Such was the case the day we parked at Tesco in Carrick-on-Shannon, in an otherwise largely empty carpark. At the end of the row of disabled parking spaces, stood a man of about my husband’s age, staring in our direction.
“Ah, look,” one of us said, “the disability police,” and we both did an eye-roll. Joe kissed me. “Mind yourself, I won’t be long,” and I watched, as he approached the man standing there, staring at us and our vehicle.
They exchanged a few words, the man nodded, and then I saw them walk away together, heads down, into the shop.
We live just a few miles outside town, in tumble-weed ridden Irish broadband wasteland so, while I was alone in the van, I availed of the excellent 4G coverage in the Tesco carpark.
“Well,” I asked, “what sort of an eating did you get from yer man for fake disabled parking?” I noticed a sense of relief in his face when he smiled and said, “No, no, quite the opposite.”
He told me what the man had said: “I waited here to ask, do you need help to get her out of the van?” Joe had said, “Ah, thanks, that’s kind, but no, she just doesn’t feel able to come into the shop today.’”
The man had nodded, “I understand. My wife has MS, and I often end up leaving her in the car because, once we get here, she’s not fit to come in.” And the two of them had walked into the shop together, chatting and exchanging their shared experiences of being full-time carers for disabled spouses.
This compassionate stranger restored our faith in humanity, and we both pledged not to jump to conclusions in future.
- Esther Hoad from Aughamore writes under the name Jo Nestor, she will be speaking at International Women's Day in The Dock on March 8.