Forget your wheelchair? What no one with a disability should ever be asked

Justine Van Den Borne has secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, and was diagnosed six years ago, when she was 35.
JASON SOUTH

Justine Van Den Borne has secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, and was diagnosed six years ago, when she was 35.

Australians Justine Van Den Borne and her teenage daughter spotted the note on their windscreen as they were driving away from a shopping centre, after a pleasant morning together.

"Did you forget your wheelchair???" it said (and was placed directly above her disability parking permit on the dashboard).

Van Den Borne, who has multiple sclerosis, was distraught. And her anguished response on Facebook to the cruel, anonymous letter she got at Mitcham Shopping Centre in Victoria, Australia, has been liked thousands of times, with messages of support from all over the world.

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"On the day you saw me I was having a good day, I was walking with my daughter unaided having a nice day [she often uses a stick]," she wrote on Facebook, in response to the incident last week.

"Thank you for ruining that. You made me feel like people were looking at me, the exact way I feel when I can't walk properly."

But it points to a much wider problem: The Nunawading resident is saddened that so many people remain ignorant about so-called "invisible" disabilities, like hers, which is caused by a progressive disease.

The nasty note ruined a pleasant morning.

The nasty note ruined a pleasant morning.

But, most shocking of all, the Nunawading resident, 41, says it happens "all the time". People will actually wait by the car in order to tell her off for parking in a disabled spot.

"Because of my age, they look at me, and automatically presume I'm doing the wrong thing. But actually I can't carry my own shopping, can't walk long distance, I have the bladder of an 80-year-old."

Last week, it happened three days in a row, at three different shopping centres, she says. 

One of the most galling things, says Van Den Borne, is that getting a disability priority parking badge is a rigorous process. She had to provide two doctor's letters, including one from a specialist. 

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Van Den Borne, has secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, and was diagnosed six years ago, when she was 35. It began with mild symptoms, like numbness in her hands and feet, but tests revealed lesions on her spine.

Her condition is progressive, and she will have to begin using a wheelchair in the next few years. She often uses a stick.

She is now unable to work - she was a receptionist - and receives a disability support pension.

"It's difficult, every day it gets a little bit harder," she says.  "I can't do zips up, can't do buttons up, probably won't able to drive soon and lose a bit more independence, unfortunately."

People who had suffered a stroke, had a heart condition or have disabilities that mean they are not able to walk far, may be forced to miss important appointments - like visiting a doctor - without access to a priority parking spot, said Craig Wallace, from People With Disability Australia.

Wallace drives a car with a mobility hoist at the back for his wheelchair, and needs to park in a priority spot because they are wider.   

He also highlighted the problem of people without a priority sticker parking in spaces reserved for people with disabilities. There is an Australian Facebook group that "names and shames" offenders.

Van Den Borne lives with her partner and two teenage children - son James and daughter Annabelle.

"My kids have had to deal with things that kids shouldn't ever have to deal with and all of our futures are forever changed," she wrote on Facebook. 

"I didn't want people to feel sorry for me, but just to understand everyone and their own story. You can't judge a book by its cover.

Her emotional Facebook post has received almost 3000 likes, messages from people around the world and has restored her faith in humanity, she says.

JUSTINE'S NOTE IN FULL:

"To person that left this on my car last week at Mitcham Shopping Centre - I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was 35. Not just MS but the worst one that never goes away and is slowly crippling my life. My kids have had to deal with things that kids shouldn't ever have to deal with and all of our futures are forever changed. On the day you saw me I was having a good day, I was walking with my daughter unaided having a nice day. Thank you for ruining that. You made me feel like people were looking at me, the exact way I feel when I can't walk properly. I am sick of people like yourself abusing me on my good days for using a facility I am entitled to. A disability doesn't always mean a person has to be wheelchair bound but lucky for you I one day will be. Right now my focus is to walk into my best friends wedding next September and not have to be pushed. I will be 42. Before you ruin another persons day remember you don't know everything and just because you can't see it, it doesn't mean a person isn't struggling to put one foot in front of the other."

 - Fairfax Media Australia

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