Handicapped Parking for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Yes, Those Spots are for You!

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I have fibromyalgia. For years, I thought about getting a handicapped parking placard and didn't. I felt ashamed, as if I'd be taking something away from someone who needed it more. Then, after a particularly painful shopping trip, I gave in and did it.

Now, I can see that I should have done it years ago. Also, I shouldn't ever be ashamed of it, and neither should you.

If you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or any other debilitating chronic illness, those parking spots are there FOR YOU. Yes, the signs have a picture of a wheelchair, but that doesn't mean only people in chairs can park there.

In fact, in many U.S. states, the criteria include:

  • Inability to walk 200 feet without stopping to rest
  • Inability to walk without the use of or assistance from a brace, cane, crutch, etc.
  • Ability to walk is severely limited due to an arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic condition

In some states, it's 50 or 100 feet rather than 200. Other states use different wording, such as:

  • A diagnosed disease or disorder which substantially impairs or interferes with mobility due to: (fill in the blank)

If you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, it's fairly likely that you can't walk very far without needing to rest, at least on a bad day. Many of us do, at some point, need a cane for balance or due to pain in the legs or hips. And we all have a condition that is, at least in part, neurological.

If any of the above statements describes you, then, by definition, you qualify. Do you find yourself saying, "Yes, but that's only on a bad day"? Well, then get the plate or placard and only use it on the days you need it. That's what I do.

Some states, however, are more restrictive. For example, New York requires one of the following:

  • Limited or no use of one or both legs
  • Neuro-muscular dysfunction which severely limits mobility
  • Another physical or mental disability which makes the use of public transportation difficult
  • Legal blindness

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome aren't considered neuro-muscular, so that wouldn't help. However, some of our symptoms may qualify you under the third one. For instance, if you're prone to anxiety attacks in crowds, that could make public transportation a problem for you. Also, walking to the bus stop or subway station might not be possible.

Getting a Handicapped Plate/Placard

The process for getting a handicapped plate or placard is pretty simple. First, find your state's requirements and forms. (Links are provided below.) Then, you and your doctor fill it out and you send it in.

Of course, that won't work if you're stuck with a doctor who doesn't believe that your illness is "real" or substantially debilitating. If so, you'll likely be better off finding a new doctor (if possible), and not just so you can get a handicapped placard! (Sadly, some of us are stuck with inadequate medical care due to insurance, geography, or other reasons, and this is just one more thing that makes the situation awful.)

In most cases, a placard is free but you do have to pay for handicapped license plates. A major benefit of a placard is that it can travel with you rather than being attached to your vehicle.

The Social Stigma: Rude People

One of the reasons I held out for so long is that I was afraid people would make nasty comments. It happens. Some rude people think they can tell with a glance whether or not we're handicapped, and for some reason, they feel like they have the right to badger us about it.

In preparation for that (which hasn't happened to me yet), I made little cards to carry in my purse that say:

Handicapped parking helps me stay active and productive in spite of severe pain in my hips, knees, back, shoulders, and hands. It reduces pain and fatigue, which means I'm better able to work and take care of my family.

94% of disability in the U.S. is due to invisible illness, including cancer, arthritis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and more. "Invisible" doesn't mean "not real."

Feel free to customize that to fit your situation and keep it on hand. Or you can just ignore them.

The important thing is that you take advantage of something that's designed to help you get through life. We have enough challenges. We deserve a little break here and there, don't you think?

Disabled Parking Information, by State

You may have to download PDF forms to see specific criteria for qualification.

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