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Parking lot confrontation is a reminder that not every disability is visible

Dara O’Reilly says she was confronted by a woman claiming she wasn't "disabled enough" to use a handicap placard in her vehicle.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Park City woman wants more people to know about the kind of disabilities that may not be recognizable at first glance.

In other words, Dara O’Reilly wants you to know about invisible disabilities. And that sometimes, people with these disabilities use handicap placards.

She has a terminal illness called Dysautonomia. It’s a disorder of the autonomic nervous system, or, the nerves that regulate the body functions that we really have no control over. Those include heart rate, blood pressure, and sweating.

O’Reilly has good days and bad days. On the bad days, she says she struggles to breathe or walk very far. It’s because of those days that her doctor gave her a handicap parking placard. O’Reilly says she only uses it when it’s absolutely necessary.

Her use of the placard became an issue recently, when, O’Reilly says she was followed into a pharmacy by a woman who had some questions to ask her.

“She was quite aggressive, literally berated me,” O’Reilly said. And O’Reilly says she tried to explain.

“She did not back down, and continued to say I looked healthy and she didn’t believe me.” O’Reilly said the woman told her she looked healthy and “not disabled enough.”

The experience left O’Reilly shocked, ashamed, and shaking.  But she also says she understands why the woman may have approached her.

“She had a bad leg, and I’m not going to discredit that.,” O’Reilly said. “But I do think we could all be more supportive of each other. It was a really horrible situation that I never thought would happen in our community that I love so much.”

That desire for people to be more supportive of each other is the reason, O’Reilly says, she’s talking about the incident at all. She wants to raise awareness.

Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, and to judge and assault — it was pretty shocking.”

O’Reilly says she belongs to a support group and that members of that group told her the same thing has happened to them.

“I wish people would just be more open-minded and kind, because no one knows what is going on in another person’s body,” O’Reilly said.

She says she hopes sharing her story will show that we never know what someone else is going through.

If you are interested in obtaining a handicap placard, there is more information at Utah’s Division of Motor Vehicles.

(Simone Seikaly contributed to the writing of this report.)