Yes, I do park in the handicapped parking spots when one is available. I have a valid handicapped tag through the DMV because of my amputation. Before Robby was born I didn't always utilize the spots, but now I do and I do not feel guilty about it.
I have learned through experience that my stump can become sore and my prosthetic can become painful almost instantly. My husband I were shopping in a store a few years ago when this occurred. I was walking through the aisles, happily looking at my coupons and sale circular. All of a sudden, I couldn't put any weight on my leg. The pain was paralyzing. I needed a lot of assistance to get to a bench and I waited while my crutches were retrieved from the car. The discomfort was so intense I started to cry.
I was lucky that day because I was not alone. Because of this experience I utilize the handicapped parking spots without guilt. I suppose I am always worried that I may not be able to easily walk out of the store, and I want to be prepared for the worse case scenario.
After I pull into a space and disembark from the car, I immediately feel the judgmental glares of onlookers who don't immediately see my prosthetic. I can feel the spectators visually dissecting me to determine if I am, indeed, disabled. When my prosthetic is visible the glare is almost immediately followed by a smile or approving nod.
When my prosthetic is not obvious, the glares shift into disapproving gawking. Many times my limp seems to be enough to reassure these handicapped parking police because they seem satisfied that I am "disabled enough" to use the spot. On occasion, but always when I am alone, I have been verbally confronted about my use of the handicapped spot.
I have been followed into a store, cornered and questioned about my handicapped parking. I have had individuals tell me that using the tag of somebody else is illegal and that I should be ashamed. The shame shifts quickly when I show them my leg!
I understand the frustration that arises when a car is parked in a handicapped spot without a tag. When somebody has a tag, it has to be assumed that the individual has some sort of disability that entitles them to use the spot. Not all disabilities are visually obvious. I am hoping that someday I will be able to go to the mall, pull into a handicapped spot and walk into the store without seeing onlookers play "guess the disability."