A 42-year-old woman who has battled cancer and overcome multiple surgeries was shamed on Tuesday for parking in an accessible spot at an Edmonton mall.
When Donna Laviste first saw the white paper on her windshield, she thought it was a parking ticket.
“My husband ran to the paper and then said, ‘Oh, it’s not a ticket.’ Then he showed it to me and I was like, ‘Oh my God. Why?'”
The note read: “How disrespectful. You certainly do not look handicapped!!”
The words brought Laviste to tears.
“I’m not the kind of person abusing that placard. I’m just using that placard because I need to,” she said, wiping her eyes.
Laviste just received her placard at the end of May.
“It’s really painful here,” she pointed at her hip. “It’s stiff – like something is scratching on my hips.”
Laviste was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2018 and started a series of treatments right away.
Post surgery, she underwent more chemotherapy. However, due to adverse side affects, the treatment was stopped.
Not long after, Laviste started to feel pain while walking and even standing. Eventually, doctors determined she had a bacterial infection in her hips. It needed to be flushed, so she underwent surgery again.
Laviste describes her walk as being penguin-like.
“At that time, I’m not able to walk. I’m walking with the crutches and a walker.”
Over the summer, she’s been trying to walk without her mobility aids. But longer journeys, including walking through a mall, can be especially challenging.
On the day the note was left, she overheard someone else in an accessible spot at Millbourne Market Mall question why she was using the space but ignored them, hoping to avoid a confrontation.
“I think this really brings up the issue of invisible disability and not making assumptions,” said Sam Mason, the accessibility assessment coordinator with Voice of Albertans with Disabilities.
Mason said getting a placard requires a report from a medical professional. They’re designed for people who cannot walk more than 50 metres.
“If somebody went through the trouble of getting a placard, then they obviously require the placard.”
Mason explained that not everyone’s mobility challenge is visible at first glance.
“There’s all kinds of reasons that somebody might need a placard.
“To just assume that because somebody doesn’t look like they’re disabled enough or they don’t use mobility aids is to just make an assumption that’s too often made.”
She said some people will test themselves by attempting to walk on their own.
As for Laviste? Her message to the note-writer is simple: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”