Is that person really disabled?

I saw a meme on Twitter recently which I would really, really like to have as a logo on the back of my fairly old and slightly battered car.

It said: “I don’t look disabled? Well, you don’t look ignorant, but there you go…..”. It was designed to highlight the fact that not all disabilities are visible, something which is especially important for those of us who have to make use of disabled toilets or disabled spaces in car parks.

I’ve never yet had an argument about a parking space but it would be very easy for me, in one of my angry road-rage moments, to assume that the driver of the seven-seater SUV parked next to me is only using it because it’s easier to unload prams and pushchairs and children, not because they are actually disabled. BUT I DON’T KNOW FOR CERTAIN.

Equally, it would be easy to assume that the person using the disabled toilet in my local coffee shop has purchased a RADAR key from Amazon and is using it to avoid queues, BUT I DON’T KNOW FOR CERTAIN.

I have very close friends who suffer from Crohn’s disease, one of the symptoms of which is persistent stomach trouble (to put it delicately). When they need to go, they need to go NOW. My various ailments have left me in the same situation, yet the chronic lack of public toilets these days has us scrambling (often literally) to use facilities in coffee shops, department stores, cinemas, railway stations and the like.

But we don’t look ‘disabled’ and I have had arguments about this with unsympathetic ‘able-bodied’ people.

The same applies to priority seating on public transport. I use a walking stick because my balance is so uncertain and when I was in London last week, I found that even notoriously unhelpful travellers on the Underground would leap up to offer me a seat. But not all stroke-survivors, not all disabled people, carry walking sticks or white canes or come complete with assistance dogs.

I was recently told a story about a lady who looks perfectly healthy but has a chronic heart condition (her husband is a stroke survivor.) She got on a bus and found that all the priority seats were taken by young mothers with pushchairs. When she asked to sit down on one of the seats, she received a volley of abuse from one young mother.

The driver was powerless to intervene (or claimed he was) and although I understand the lady could have escalated her complaint through the system, was it really worth all the stress? She is now allegedly getting verbal abuse from this young mother every time they meet at the bus stop.

That’s why I don’t put my walking stick through the window of the SUV; that’s why I don’t argue over toilet queues - because you just don’t know.

I have said before that I could have easily got involved in arguments in pubs if my mood-swings went the wrong way. I have admitted to swearing at children in pubs when they did. But I’m very conscious that because ‘I don’t look disabled’, I could be the one who was thrown out and banned.

I now carry an ID card provided by the brain-injury charity Headway (headway.org.uk) which lists the side-effects of my stroke - I’ve had it for a couple of months and it has already saved me on more than one occasion.

So don’t jump to conclusions about the person in the SUV or the disabled toilet. You might end up looking ignorant when you know the truth.