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U.S. Paralympian Says Strangers Shame Her For Using Handicapped Parking Spots

Huffington Post - Wed Jul 21 22:52

Paralympian Jessica Long is shining a light on a common problem many people with disabilities face — harassment from people who don’t believe they’re disbaled.

The swimmer, who has won 13 Paralympic gold medals, recently posted a TikTok in which she expressed frustration over being shamed for using a handicapped-accessible parking spot, despite being an amputee and having a disabled person parking permit. 

Long said that once when she was parking, a woman in another car gave her a disgusted look, rolled down her window and informed her that she shouldn’t be parking there. Long explained to the woman that she’s an amputee. In response, the woman “just drove away.”

In her video, which has over 1 million likes on TikTok, the 29-year-old athlete emphasized how often the “handicap police” shame her for using a parking spot she needs.

“I was never bullied as a kid and I didn’t know that I was going to be bullied by adults because I park in handicap. And I get it. I’m young, I’m athletic, but I’m also missing legs! And I know I make it look easy, but it’s still really hard. My legs are heavy, they hurt me. I’m in pain.”

Long — whom you may recognize from a Toyota commercial about her life (above) — has fibular hemimilia, a condition in which she wasn’t born with lower legs, as she explains in another TikTok video. Her adoptive parents had part of her legs amputated when she was 13 months old so she could learn how to walk in prosthetic legs. She said that she’s had more than 25 surgeries and emphasized the physical pain of the whole ordeal. But at a young age she fell in love with swimming, and at age 12 she won three gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics, making her the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympics team to do so, according to the International Paralympics Committee.

Despite her accomplishments, Long said in an Instagram post she published in September 2020 that she gets harassed on a regular basis for parking in handicapped-accessible spaces.

“I get two to four comments per week, just going about my normal routine and parking in handicap spaces,” the caption of her post reads. “I’ve had people yell at me, leave notes on my windshield, knock on my car window, or wait for me to get out of my car just to tell me I can’t park there. My worst experience to date was an older couple that followed me around a grocery store and kept making comments because they wanted the handicap spot I took and said that I didn’t need it. I even explained I had two prosthetic legs and they told me I was a liar.”

Unfortunately, disabled people being harassed by parking lot vigilantes who do not think they should be parking in handicapped-accessible spots is incredibly common

It is important to remember that not all disabilities are visible.

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