One of the most destructive things this ableist world does is pit the needs of disabled people against each other. It does this by creating scarcity, and then blaming that scarcity on disabled people. Here are some examples.
If a bathroom has only one accessible toilet, then a wheelchair user can only access that stall. Reasonably enough, they’ll want it available to them and not occupied by an abled person. But a wheelchair isn’t the only reason a disabled person might need the accessible stall. A person with balance issues may need the support of the arm bar to sit and rise. A person with Chron’s disease may not have the bowel control to wait in line, or may need to change and rinse their underwear after an accident.
Since the majority of disabilities are invisible, wheelchair users may not know if the person occupying the only stall they can access has a disability or not. They just know they’re being impeded. The higher traffic the bathroom is, the greater the odds that a disabled person will have to wait. Wheelchair users and other accessible toilet users are suddenly competing for a limited resource, creating resentment. Many public bathrooms put a folding diaper changing table in that stall, requiring parents (usually moms) to use that space even if not disabled.
Disabled placard parking spaces require someone to both have a disability and a special parking tag saying so. They are usually closer to the destination than other parking spots. They may also be near a sidewalk ramp or have a lined loading space beside them for wheelchair users. Most people with disability parking placards have a disability impacting their mobility, but they can also be granted for exposure related disabilities, like extreme susceptibility to heat stroke or very poor cold tolerance. They may use a cane or not.
Many abled people, perhaps motivated by concern for wheelchair users, take it upon themselves to monitor who uses these spaces, and whether or not they “look” disabled. Many invisibly disabled people have left an exhausting shopping trip only to find a nasty note on their windshield scolding them to leave this space for “real” disabled people. It’s a kind of social hell reserved for people too disabled to not need accommodation, but not disabled enough to look it. While this comes mostly from abled people, I’ve heard wheelchair users agree that no one other disabled should access their spots, because they need them.
Both these scenarios pit the interests of wheelchair users against those of other disabled people. And neither one needs to. The problem is that one in five Americans are disabled but only one toilet (or 5% of toilets) and 2% of parking spaces are legally required to be available to us. We’re 20% of the population, forced to compete for two to five percent of the whole. That leaves the 80% of the population that’s abled with 95-98% of all legally mandated accommodation. It’s no wonder they have a hard time conceiving just how much of a burden it is if they use our only parking space or toilet. It explains also the resentment between disability communities.
We need twenty percent of parking spaces, toilets, and everything else. Our needs are not “special” or unimportant. Needing to go to the bathroom is about as basic as a human need gets. When one in five Americans is disabled, 2 in 100 parking spaces is obviously not enough. We need to work together, chair users and others, visibly and be invisibly disabled, to demand proportional access. We need more parking spaces and more accessible toilets. We can get that, but not by fighting against each other, not by arguing over who gets to use the not enough we all have to share. We have to demand more.