Dubiously Disabled

by Lee Habeeb –

Our compassion is being stolen, one parking space, one wheelchair, and one check at a time –

It happens all the time. I head out to the nearest mall to work through my weekly honey-do list. After spending five minutes securing a parking spot, I walk to my destination. As I pass the handicapped parking spaces located a hop and a skip from the entrance — the spaces reserved for people in wheelchairs, or really old people with walkers, or other genuinely handicapped people — I notice a car pull into one. It’s one of those Seinfeld moments, and I turn into George Costanza. Almost.

The first thing I do is stop and take a look at the license plate. And then I wait. And it happens like clockwork. Perfectly healthy human beings with handicapped-parking decals spring out of their cars and happily stroll right by me.

Of course they’re happy — they get the best parking spaces, and suffer no consequences.

What happens next separates me from George Costanza: I don’t say anything. I don’t challenge the miscreant pretending to be handicapped who steals a space from people who are. And that’s part of the problem: People like me don’t confront people like them. Our government doesn’t put up much of a fight either, as you’ll learn shortly. Indeed, it actually gives them incentives for this behavior. And the grifters who pretend to be disabled get away with stealing our collective compassion one parking space at a time.

And one wheelchair at a time.

With regularity, the Wall Street Journal recently reported, airport employees witness people who falsely claim to be handicapped when they arrive at the airport. Having successfully cut to the front of the long security lines, these parasites jump out of their chairs the moment they’re through the screening process and race to their gates, bags in tow. Airport security sardonically calls these occurrences “airport miracles,” because the body scanners seem to possess mysterious healing powers.

How big is the problem? One airport investigated the matter and concluded that at least 15 percent of wheelchair requests are phonies designed to game the system. Some think that estimate is low.

We can thank the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act for requiring airlines to provide free wheelchair service to anyone who wants it. The legislation was carelessly written, so that there’s no documentation required to get the service.

Our compassion isn’t just being stolen one wheelchair and one parking space at a time. It’s being stolen one check at a time. Perhaps millions at a time, if we had the courage to challenge the explosion of disability checks being sent to Americans who are not handicapped.

How bad is it? Enrollment in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program has hit an all-time high of 8.9 million, up from 455,000 in 1960 and 7.4 million when President Obama took office in January 2009. Since 2009, the number of people on disability has increased more than the number of people working.

All this has happened as medical advances have allowed more of us to stay on the job, and laws have been passed banning discrimination against the handicapped in workplaces.

But it turns out that once people get on the disability train, they rarely get off. In 2011, 650,000 people left the program, but 36 percent of those left because they had no choice — they died. Another 52 percent left because they moved to other programs. Only 6 percent returned to work, and only 3.6 percent went back to work because their medical condition had improved.

How did this happen? For starters, we allowed it. It has become socially acceptable in some parts of America to not work when you actually could, and instead to collect a check from the taxpayers. And in some parts of America, this is utterly commonplace. In Hale County, Ala., according to a recent NPR series, nearly one in four working-age adults is on disability. And on the day their checks arrive, NPR noted, “banks stay open late, Main Street fills up with cars, and anybody looking to unload an old TV or armchair has a yard sale.”

Things have got to be pretty bad if NPR is doing a series on the issue.

NPR’s Chana Joffe-Walt talked to a retired judge in Hale Country, Sonny Ryan, who described a conversation he had had with a man who appeared to be healthy, but who collected disability.

“Just out of curiosity, what is your disability?” the judge asked.

“I have high blood pressure,” the man said.

“So do I,” the judge said. “What else?”

“I have diabetes.”

“So do I.”

And that summarizes the problem.

In 1984, Congress changed the definition of the word disability. The old definition, it decided, was too narrow; it included pretty much only things that could kill you. Things that were easy to test for, like cancer and heart disease. The new law was more vague, with harder-to-diagnose problems like back pain and depression added to the list.

When Congress creates a vague law with big dollars attached, it doesn’t take long for a crafty lawyer to seize the opportunity. And seize it Charles Binder did. When he started working in the disability field in 1979, Binder represented fewer than 50 disability clients. Last year, his firm — Binder & Binder — represented more than 30,000 people.

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter
and Download the AMAC App

Sign Up Today Download

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter!

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Amy Hall
6 years ago

I just read the above and have gotten so mad/upset, I can’t even comment except to say, I have Lou Gehrig’s disease. I won’t live long. My husband has to take care of me and he leaves me to pick something up. He also will take our daughter. They might even look happy as they attempt to get into the store and back to me praying that nothing happens while they are gone. Bye

Brenda Walsh
8 years ago

You must like it sitting so lofty up there judging people.
My mother suffered long from cancer. She had just about everything that could be removed, removed.
Did she hobble? No
Did she use a wheelchair? No
Did she “look” disabled? No
My mother had pride but, make no mistake, walking from that car to the grocery was an effort.
Back then they didn’t have scooters in the store either.

She came out from the grocery to find a nasty note on her car saying “how dare she” take a spot from someone who might have legitimately needed it. Another one who had x-ray vision and could see the state of my mother’s health.

I am just saying, don’t be so quick to think what your eyes see is all there is. I have had 3 back surgeries now, and need to use a scooter in the store, but I don’t have a scooter of my own because the doctor is being difficult. So, you probably would not know the depth of my pain to look at me in the few minutes it takes me to get from the car (in a handicapped spot) to the scooter inside. I have my handicapped license plate thanks to my cardiologist following my heart issues (which also don’t show). Just think before you get all riled up. You just may have No Idea.

uncle judd
8 years ago

I have not been approved for disability yet, but I have three boys under the age of 8 and must have 24-7 care due to the fact that I have started having epileptic seizures. I hesitate to get a handicapped placard because I am 32 years old. My doctor has said that if my body gets too stressed by walking more than 200 ft I will have cluster seizures. It has happened before. I worry about what people will think if they see a healthy guy get out and start walking in the store, but if you were to see me start having a seizure and fall. Then you would understand why. I am parked there. I don’t want my wife to park in the handicapped parking since I too feel like it is for the elderly or wheelchair bound individuals. But just because I don’t look elderly or am wheelchair bound does that make me not handicapped , I don’t think so!
On the other hand I am very upset because people who are not truly disabled get their check without even being questioned about when people like me have lost their cars , house , and all income but have to wait two years for their checks to start. I’m only a month or too from being on the street. Someone please tell me how I explain. That to my three boys with Christmas only two months away. Its because of these people who have faked it just to get a free check.

9 years ago

I agree these parking spots are used by false people. I see it all the time and I know a few people that fake to doctors to be sick to get these parking privileges.
Do you really need it?
I see them walking in the mall around just fine doing their shopping for hours. Yet it’s too hard to park a few meters away??
Please people!! Those spots should be for people in wheelchair or elderly people.
These car spots are wider then usual ones to gain better access for wheelchair. These spots are not for someone lazy .
I know people that faked themselves to the doctor and ended up becoming sick.. Coincidence ? I doubt it!
Do not put anything on yourself that you don’t want to end up with. Your brain is a powerful tool. You tell it you are sick , you will become that person you created. !!
Look on the disable car spot, it has a picture of a wheelchair.. Are you in one?
If not , park a meter down!
Seriously people are wingers ! They want to be treated equally ??
There is no advantage in being in a wheelchair . That person has a lot to deal with to get though the day.
Just saying…

9 years ago

also the front picture is of the placard or non placard violation……

9 years ago

@Lee habeeb,

the author is just ignorant to say it nicely.
you do not have to be “OLD” to be disabled,
you do not have to crawl out of the car to be disabled,
you do not have to be missing a limb to be disabled,
you do not have to be on oxygen to be disabled.
in fact first of all you need to check you states laws for getting a “disabled placard”.
we know they are abused.
however, my wife and I both have one as certified by our separate doctors.
some idiots would be like you and say he doesn’t have a placard or she doesn’t have a
Lee a lot of people like you are just hurt inside. without a doubt many people abuse these spots, but I get really offended when an idiot like you has diareha of the mouth, just be productive and live your life. There is a programs *IF* you have a smart phone to report abuse of placards and disabled parking spot abuse………however, being as intelligent as you I’m sure you know this and have posted it for all the disgruntled people like yourself, actually I do use it because it does get annoying but even more annoying is a legit person parking with idiots looking at your and about snapping their neck to view the placard. Some idiot got out of his vehicle one day the the Veterans Affairs Medical Center that we were parked in waiting for an appointment and wanted to see the placard…….dude that is a good way of getting a gun pulled on youself…….I don’t know you……….don’t want to know you……..don’t walk up on people in their car with yourself yelling and screaming……..but that sounds like many here.

9 years ago

Wow! I didn’t know that you, a total stranger who never met me and do not know my medical history, are more competent to make decisions re my health status or eligibility to get a handicapped parking sticker than my orthopedic surgeon or chiropractor. Do you make house calls?

John P Rybicki (lotsa letters)
9 years ago

Many comments ago some one claimed the ability to diagnose the bodily ills some one who parked in a spot
reserved for those with “real” ailments. Texas is the most beautiful State in the union and filled with compassionate
and generous people.
I would rather make an error and give some one who seems “fine” to untrained minds, a reserved spot than deny one
deserving soul a spot.Would you wish us to carry our medical records>

6 years ago

This is great. I wish I were in Texas. <3

9 years ago

Handicap parking (reserved spaces) are part of the ADA regulations to ensure access to goods and services. Access from a parking context entails rules about reserved spaces themselves, signage, and routes to/from. In laymen’s terms, there needs to be a barrier free means to exit your vehicle and enter a building. The only distance rule is that the reserved spaces must be located on the shortest accessible route of travel from adjacent parking to an accessible entrance.

Distance however is not the vital part of handicap parking. Barrier free access from getting out of your vehicle to entering the building is. The slop/grade, the access aisle, the surface material, the curb cut, the door handle, etc. Even if a reserved spot was only 3 feet from the building, it wouldn’t be much good if you had to climb a 20 foot ladder, swing on a rope, drop through a window and land on an air mattress to get in.

Distance is still an important factor and one of the main contentions when it comes to handing out permits. The contentions stem from variable distances each business requires to access their goods and services. A small coffee shop may take only 20 feet, a drug store may take 125 feet, a grocery store 500 feet, a baseball stadium 1000 feet, a large mall 2500 feet, etc. Add to this, the varying distances a person with a disability may be able to cover from day to day, hour to hour. There is no one distance that works for everyone and everywhere.

The good news is there are many readily available means to assist with distance when barrier free access is provided: Wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, crutches, canes, etc. These mobility devices allow for turning distance into a convenience factor rather than a need. Simply choose the device you need to cover the distance involved. Eligibility for a handicap parking permit could then be determined by access aisle. If an access aisle is required to enter/exit your vehicle or transfer to your mobility device, you would qualify for a handicap permit.

valerie hines
9 years ago

So,what as we Americans supposed to do? Immagrants seem to get more from the government than anyone. I have to sleep outside on the new haven,CT greeñ,all alone with congestive heart failure with none of my machines to keep me breathing. I’m a highly intelligent54 year old woman,whose husband ran out. I can’t believe its come to this in America.

10 years ago

My wife worked for 30 years before giving it up. Two heart attacks and 7 surgeries later, she applied for and received SSD. Her cardiologist has told her to live everyday like its her last. She has a handicapped sticker and enjoys the convenience. And as she races right past you on the way into the mall, she just might fall dead. Judge/reflect on that.

Betty L
10 years ago

Many disabilities can not be so easily seen. So don’t think you know what is going on with someone by looking on from the outside. On a good day, I can walk for a few minutes in the store like normal people before the debilitating pain takes me out again so I don’t always use my scooter. And its good for me to walk when I can. If we couldn’t park close, by the time I walked in from the parking lot, I’d be finished. Judge ye not…………….

9 years ago
Reply to  Betty L

oh so true my friend!

10 years ago

My wife is wheelchair bound with MS-she loves to count the number of so-called healthy people using Handicapped spots- You can never really tell if a disability is real or not- The saddest thing is that no one seems to mind being on the dole anymore-My wife would love to work but with meds and her disability cannot. Her doctor told me she was one of the few he knew who really wanted to work but can’t while most could but would “rather not”
When I’m with her ,I usually park in a handicapped spot since she is uncomfortable being left alone in a parking lot-She would rather be near the entrance and help should anything come up.
Sorry if it bothers some people.

10 years ago
Reply to  MSchikman

Being on the Dole? Really? It took me a long time to get over the fact that I am getting paid for not working before I really understood that SSD is NOT welfare. I by the way, also have long term disability. I paid into both my private long term disability and SSD throughout my working years as you also did. So it is not a handout or being on the Dole. I agree there are too many who falsely use the system and I wish that were not so. But, we need to be careful judging from the outside or categorizing acceptable verse no acceptable problems. I am one of those back patients who has had multiple surgeries so that I can function as well as I can. If you see me at walmart, it is because it is one of my good days. The ones you don’t see are the ones when I am in bed trying to recouperate.

9 years ago
Reply to  MSchikman

healthy…….another wanna be doctor? grow up!

10 years ago

May when we catch these frauds in the act we send some of Obama’s Chicago Mafia friends to cap their knees and make them legitimate.

10 years ago
Reply to  Inluminatuo

Wow, that last comment is probably what stopped the conversation! It sounds like we are all getting frustrated over something we might not care so much about if there wasn’t so much frustration in our government policies right now.
Or is it a sign of the last days, like when the Bible says people’s love and compassion would grow cold?

My husband had a stroke and can walk now, with an aid. He looks pretty good, too! But, he can not get out of the car without being able to open the door all the way open. His leg will not bend that far. I usually drive him, and I often let him off near the front of a building and go look for a park. I need to find one where he can open the door, or else I have to go out ahead of him (take a hike) and pick him up again. He has a legal placard, and we use it. Sometimes I park in the disabled space so we can walk back out together. Do you folks think that is wrong?

Also, sometimes people park so close to the disabled car space, he can’t get back in the car, which would be a real problem, if I didn’t happen to be with him at the time to back the car out. Haven’t heard or seen any articles about that.

Bill B.
10 years ago
Reply to  Inluminatuo

I recently stopped at a local McDonalds toi get a bite to eat. There was a car parked in the handicapped spot with no placard or tag. I have severe arthritis and it is
sometimes painfull
l to walk. A young minotity group member with two children approached the car and started to get in. I asked her if her handicap was mental disability or not able to read.

Tim A.
10 years ago
Reply to  Bill B.

@Bill B. – tell us Bill. What does the fact that the person is, as you say, a “minority group member” have to do with the discussion at hand? Or, did you think that calling them a “minority group member” instead of “Black” or “Hispanic”, or fill in the blank… makes your obvious racism, OK? I would be the first to say there are way too many people scamming the system, and I understand peoples frustration – the lack of general honesty in Americans today is appalling. But, is your racism less wrong than their dishonesty? Not to me…

9 years ago
Reply to  Bill B.

good for you, since you can sometimes walk. try that pgp and your hip out, you cannot walk! oh, tell the doctor you can sometimes walk!

Bart Hall
10 years ago

This is a difficult question as to handicapped parking. I have a temporary handicap placard. It is about to be renewed. Yet, when I get out of a vehicle (gingerly) I make every attempt to stand straight and walk properly. The truth is, that I am recovering from reconstructive spine surgery. I see people look at me skeptically, but I cannot put my socks on by myself. I have constant, albeit, reduced pain. I have been ordered to use handicapped toilet facilities (and have, in fact, installed them in all my bathrooms at home). So the point I am making is, that some handicaps are not always easily noticeable.

Pete Phillips
10 years ago

I had an experience once that is overlooked by almost everyone .. EXCEPT for an Air port cop in Ft Lauderdale back when this happened 87 or so ..My Girlfriend was blind and had to be on a flight from this terminal X in so many minutes My fault we didn’t get there early >Traffic was worse then expected But I did have about 15 minutes to get her to her bags checked gate .. but no parking spots opened in the drop off spots I had to get her in there and started on her way .. I just parked in a spot in front of a marked spot. grabbed her and her bags and started to the terminal. Airport cop on his job started writing me a ticket within a minute .. I ran back and told him to just hand it to me .. when he understood my problem he not only stopped writing but he saw someone leaving from a parking spot.. stood Gard on it until I got my car around the loop . Blind people did not get handi caped parking most of them do not drive …

10 years ago

When I see healthy people parking in a handicapped spot, I give then the benefit and point out to them that they just parked in a handicapped spot. On a couple of occasions they indicated that they did not realize that, thank me and move their vehicle.

On most of these encounters I get a response along the lines of “so what”.

To them I make the comment “So, I assume your handicap is mental”.

10 years ago

I agree there are allot of abusers out there. Since I have become disabled I tend to watch the other people that park in the handicap spaces and there are allot of people that cast doubt in my eyes.
I too see allot of people that don’t look disabled. I don’t look disabled most of the time, but it does agrevate me when I see the handicapped person set in the car while their companion (son, daughter, friend, etc) runs in and does the shopping or others using the handicap sticker. I once confronted a lady driving a van for the amish. They all got out and went shopping while she sat in the van. When I questioned her she said I’ve got a tag. Our police dept said as long as the vehicle is being used by a handicapped person (in the vehicle) they couldn’t do anything.
My Dr. had asked me about going on disability because of my pain and I continued to work for a while before I finally said yes. The medications made my job danderous and mistakes easy. I had trouble accepting the fact that I was disabiled, but a truly handicapped friend finally convinced me to accept it after about 9 months. On my good days I used to park in regular spaces but found the longer walk to become painful and have pretty much resorted to the handicap spaces and I’ve even been bad enough that I have went home if I couldn’t get one. I know others that are handicapped for breathing problems which are not visible. Our handicaps can be non visible problems and the walk in it is ok, but the distance back out can be rough. I can’t shop Wal Mart if I have to walk it. I have a four wheel drive truck and after I get my leg in I can just slide onto the seat. It’s so much easier than crawling up and down in and out of my wife’s car. Before my body got this bad I thought the other people I saw in trucks couldn’t be that bad. I’ve now changed my attitude toward them.
It’s amazing how, when we join a group, our minds change in attitude about some of these things.
I do allot of things I shouldn’t do. I shouldn’t do them because of the pain I suffer latter. Then I have to stay down for 2 or 3 days, the longest was 1-1/2 weeks, and pop vicotin for pain and flexoral to calm the muscles. The people at the parking lots don’t see this part of me. I try not to judge others, I physically know what it can be like now.

Howard Munday
10 years ago

Lee and many other commentators about his article are obviously envious of both the legally and non-legally handicapped by judging them with little or no thought that they could and may be in the same situation as they age, I’m 70 and that’s my opinion! I wish them well and hope they never become handicapped themselves but in my Bible I’m admonished that I “should not judge that I be not judged accordingly!” It’s a moral issue, for sure, and as the moral fiber in this country continues to get ripped asunder more and more, it will, as noted by one or more commentators result in the utter destruction of our country and world. Can you say “Armageddon” which will lead to the ultimate “Judgement”! God Bless us all!!!!!

Diane Jasa
10 years ago

I am perfectly healthy and when I’m alone I often deliberately park a great distance from my destination for the exercise. However, I have a son who is a double amputee. He has prostheses and can walk short distances but he tires easily and has difficulty with uneven terrain. When I go to pick him up at school I hang the handicap

Diane Jasa
10 years ago
Reply to  Diane Jasa

I am perfectly healthy and have no problem walking, but I have a son who is a double amputee. He has prostheses and he can walk short distances, but he tires easily and he has difficulty negotiating uneven terrain. When I pick him up at school,I park the car and hang the handicap placard from the mirror and walk to his classroom. I often wonder what people think. The placard isn’t for my convenience, but it may appear to others that I am “gaming the system”.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x