Disabled student ‘in disbelief’ at abusive message left on car

The PhD student and seminar tutor was ‘shocked’ when her son discovered a note calling her ‘fat and ugly’

A disabled PhD student and seminar tutor at the University of York was the victim of abuse last week after she returned to her parked car to find a note that read: “Being fat and ugly doesn’t count as being disabled (Park Elsewhere).”

Image: Sarah Metcalfe

Image: Sarah Metcalfe

Sarah Metcalfe, 35, has ‘invisible illness’ fibromyalgia, a muscoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder, and parked her car in a disabled parking space at the Clifton Moor Tesco on Thursday 30 April to be closer to the supermarket entrance and make it easier to carry heavy shopping bags back to her car.

She was “shocked” and “in disbelief” when she returned to her car at 6pm and her son, aged 13, found the handwritten note on the front window of her car.

Metcalfe developed fibromyalgia after a fall resulted in neck and head injuries. She has experienced the symptoms, which include increased sensitivity to pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, muscle stiffness and problems with mental processes on a daily basis, for five years. However, she was not immediately diagnosed with the long-term condition.

In a Facebook post addressed to the person that wrote to the note, Metcalfe detailed the pain she was going through. She wrote: “Despite the fact that I work hard (I never take sick time), don’t claim disability benefits (not that it’s wrong for people that do) and I juggle work and family life I was really just having a BAD and very painful day.”

Metcalfe said she wants to raise awareness of her experience to highlight the fact that although people with ‘invisible illnesses’ may not look like they have disabilities, they still struggle with many aspects of daily life.

She told Nouse: “I didn’t really want to create attention to myself with getting this note because it’s quite embarrassing and it was quite hurtful, but I felt compelled to challenge perceptions of people in this way. That person who judged me on my appearance doesn’t know me as a person, doesn’t know what kind of day I’ve had or what’s going on in my life.”

Metcalfe stressed that her intentions were not to start a hate campaign against the writer of the note, saying: “I just felt like I needed to educate this person. If they did own up to what they did, I would happily sit down and talk to them and explain about what challenges I face on a day-to-day basis.”

The Sociology student acknowledges that the writer of the note may not have understood that she is disabled because she is not currently in possession of a Disabled Blue Badge, which ensures easier access for people with mobility difficulties to park closer to public places and areas.

Although she has applied for one, she is unsure whether she will be permitted one due to the nature of her illness. However, Metcalfe is legally able to park in a disabled space without a Blue Badge because the scheme only applies to on-street car parks.

She said the disabled car park at the Clifton Moor Tesco “didn’t have double yellow lines, or anything that made them look like they were official, and that it could be enforceable”, adding: “It doesn’t say that a blue badge is needed, so I just used my own judgment.”

Metcalfe also pointed out that there were around 40 empty spaces in the disabled parking space and said that because of this, she didn’t’ believe that she would be offending anyone.
She went on to say: “That’s the last thing I’d want to do, and it’s about the personal judgment and compassion of others rather than stereotyping people and being politically correct.”

Metcalfe added: “I would never park in an allocated blue badge car park in town, so if I was feeling like I was in agony – well, I’m in agony all of the time, but if I felt I couldn’t cope with it that day – I just wouldn’t go out, I wouldn’t venture out into town.”

Staff at the Clifton Moor Tesco were “horrified” to hear what had happened but said that there was no CCTV at the privately owned car park, and so they would have no indication of who had posted the note on her car.

Peter Quinn, Director of Student Support Services, said: “I am sorry to hear about this incident and hope the student involved is making use of their friends and support network … Although these types of incidents are likely to be rare, they could leave the recipient feeling distressed and disempowered.”

Metcalfe hopes that by sharing the note on Facebook the person will see it and “will think twice about saying those nasty things”. Her status has currently been shared almost 3,000 times.

One in ten students at York have a disability, the majority of which are likely to be non-visible.


  1. She didn’t have a blue badge, has a 13 year old to help her carry stuff, and still parked in a handicap space. Sounds to me she parked there not because she truly needed to but because she wanted to.

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    • 6 May ’15 at 2:37 pm

      you're such a dick

      did you not read the part about her spending most of her waking days in intense pain?

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    • John, you have no idea what people with fibromyalgia go thru on a daily basis. Not to mention, then having to deal with imbeciles like you. Just because she has a child with her to help carry her bags does not make it any easier to get to the car herself with the increased pain in her back, legs, arms & neck. I pray you are never inflicted with such an awful illness. Tho I will say, sometimes people like you are the ones who deserve to develop an illness like this. Give you a taste of your own medicine.

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  2. I’ve a few problems with what you’re saying, John.

    One is how your presume to know more about the individual’s access needs than they do. It might seem to you that they didn’t truly need the bay. But you’re not in the position to judge. The only person who can is the person themselves.

    Secondly, what’s up with the “she has a 13 year old son to help carry her carry stuff”? I’m not sure you’ve noticed, but 13 year olds aren’t mule donkeys – there’s only so much they can carry, and only for a short distance. To say that someone who needs it shouldn’t park in a disabled bay because they have a 13 year old who’ll take care of it is a little silly.

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    • Josh, I’m just saying the excuse of having to carry something is a lame excuse when someone is there to help. Some 13 year old boys are stronger than their mothers. And I’m sure he could have also helped by pushing a grocery cart out to the car.

      I can judge by the information contained in the article. From that position is what I based my judgement on. Rare, if ever, does someone have all the facts before they judge. Just as you judged her son without knowing him. Life is full of judgements. You, I, everyone judges.

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      • Maybe you should stop judging and start empathising. Walk in the shoes of a person who faces continuous struggles in everyday life then come back and tell us how you felt being judged :-) (Y)

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      • John, what isn’t contained in the article is that fibromyalgia often results in continuous pain, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and often requires the use of strong medication. Perhaps if you had typed ‘fibromyalgia’ into a search engine you could have found out more information before judging Ms. Metcalfe. And before you judged her son you could have considered that perhaps he, too, may be disabled and incapable of carrying or pushing something even a short distance. Just because some boys are stronger than their mothers, does not mean this boy is. That’s the whole point of invisible disabilities; you don’t know who has them and who do not, so before jumping to conclusions it’s usually a useful thing to try and get more information, otherwise learn not to be so judgemental in the first place.

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  3. 6 May ’15 at 2:51 am

    Zohra Khan Disabled Students' Officer

    People with disabilities face enough discrimination and a lack of understanding from others as well as empathy because people instantly judge, unless they are upfront about their disability. However, for those of us who do have invisible disabilities, we choose not to always be upfront sometimes as it invalidates our ability and strength in the eyes of others who may not be so understanding and assume things. Regardless of the situation, whether a disabled person has someone to help them, know that it takes an act of strength to ask for help so please respect anyone who is going through everyday life with their good moments and bad moments. One thing most disabled people commonly unite on is resilience and persistence. We already have a surplus of critics, but I’d like to thank you for your opinion.

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  4. 6 May ’15 at 8:32 am

    Tackle Hate Crime

    If you have been affected by incidents like those covered in the article, the recently launched Stop Hate UK helpline, is available on 0800 138 1625 An online chat service is also available onstophateuk.org/talk-to-us

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  5. No offence meant but this story seems quite unlikely, what a strange note for someone to allegedly leave. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be a hoax, though I have disabled friends and know that they certainly get their unfair share of abuse and rudeness from strangers, including public sector workers. It’s awful, but this seems beyond the pale and into the realm of the unbelievable.

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  6. I have fibro myalgia and have a handicapped sticker. My doctor suggested it to me. I am currently applying for disability. There are other disorders and diseases that accompany fibro myalgia and depending on what you get, it can great limit you.

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  7. The note was probably left by someone assuming that it was yet another able bodied person abusing the disabled space. If she didn’t have a blue badge then she needs to get one – that’s what they’re for.

    Otherwise you can be sure that all the disabled spaces will be full of able-bodied lazy sods who will just claim they have an invisible disability if you challenge them on it.

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  8. If she suffers from dizziness and muscle stiffness, is it really safe to drive anyway?

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  9. Anonymous, it is very believable and it also happened to me. I have Lupus and was parking for work downtown in a Handicap space (with a blue badge) and was approached by a man and verbally assaulted that I was not handicapped, but too fat and lazy to walk. When I came out from work, there was a huge sign on my windshield that read “This person is not handicapped, just lazy”. People are not only judgmental, they are cruel!! So yes, this does happen….everywhere! Folks need to stop being so quick to judge and mind their own business!

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  10. 6 May ’15 at 9:05 pm

    john williams

    They will reap what they sow, just allow God to pay them back in due season, they shall reap.

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  11. Anonymous, it’s not a hoax, trust me. Sarah is my seminar tutor and she was very upset about this last week and was talking to me and a couple of other girls about it – we had a big discussion about invisible illnesses as a result (good thing about sociology, you can relate it to any topic :P). But yeah, just know that this is definitely real and a real person has been affected quite badly by this. Even if someone did have an issue with her parking in a disabled spot why not leave a note simply saying “Please don’t park here if you’re not disabled” etc. why call her fat and ugly? It’s outright bullying. No question.

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  12. I have Lupus and Fibromyalgia, most days I feel ok but I am always in some kind of pain 24/7. Depending on what I have had to do that day, what time of the day it is, what I have been doing the days before and if I’m in a flare or not all will affects my level of pain. I know making the decision to park there would only be based on my pain level and if I felt like I could physical and mental deal with the pain it’s going to cause to park elsewhere. It does not matter if I had my 4 sons with me or super hero’s with me. Someone else can help but their body can’t releave yours from any of the pain. All we end up doing is causing ourselves more pain later to please people so we don’t look foulish or stand out. People

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  13. No blue badge – no right to complain. Admittedly this note was a little harsh, but I think the sender was entirely justified in leaving something to that effect. If everyone “used their judgement” that they “wouldn’t be offending anyone” by parking in an unenforced disabled space then every man and his dog would park there when he felt a little under the weather. This is an absolute nonsense. At first I had some sympathy, I’m sure it is very unpleasant to live with an unpleasant disability however such as this, however at the end of the day if her “constant agony” means it is too much to walk an extra 20 metres from the normal parking areas then she should not be in charge of a motor vehicle alone, or with a 13 year old child on board. No blue badge = right to park.

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  14. Wait I’m confused… so she DOESN’T have a disabled parking badge and she just “used her judgement” on if she could park there? Why doesn’t she have one? Aren’t they REQUIRED to park there?

    I agree totally that it is no one’s place to judge and that is a very cruel message to leave, but if everyone just “used their judgement” then all the handicap slots would be full of able bodied people and would not be available for the people who need them. If there is no way to visibly see that a person requires the assistance then they need the badge. You can’t just take a person word they are suffering from a disease you can’t see.

    If a cop gave her a ticket would she sit there and explain her illness to them? Would they care why she broke the law? they may let her slide but the ticket would still be justifiable. You can’t break the law just because you want to or because you are disabled.

    Again, I am not trying to be callous to the disabled in anyway. I would never judge a persons physical health like tha

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    • 7 May ’15 at 5:07 pm


      Okay, all together now, let’s READ THE ACTUAL ARTICLE:

      “Metcalfe is legally able to park in a disabled space without a Blue Badge because the scheme only applies to on-street car parks”.

      Therefore, she as a disabled person, was totally eligible and entitled to park in the space.

      End of discussion.

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      • By that logic anyone can legally park in off-street disabled car park spaces. Which has nothing to do with whether Metcalfe is disabled or not.

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  15. Where’s the support for the obviously disabled who are prevented from parking by people with invisible disabilities that can still manage without using disabled spaces? These people who obviously need disabled spaces are being harmed and prevented from living their lives just so someone doesn’t have to take a few extra steps even though they can with extra effort/pain. They should just make all parking spaces disabled spaces. Then those requiring the features provided by disabled spaces would always have access to them and those only wanting to park close could compete for close ones with everyone else.

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  16. I also suffer from fibromyalgia /chronic fatigue syndrome and it can be a nightmare and incredibly difficult for doctors to understand let alone people that have never had any form of experience of it. For all those saying ‘Well get a blue disabled badge’ it’s not that easy. They don’t just hand them out willy nilly. It can be hard for elderly people with physical disabilities to get a badge so it is a a hell of a lot harder for those with ‘invisible’ illnesses to get one. Also, for those saying that she shouldn’t be driving you get good days and you get bad days. On the bad days you don’t drive because you literally cannot get out of bed, but on the good days you can move but it just hurts a lot. Before people judge and are abusive maybe you should research the illness more so you can make more educated comments.

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    • Goodness. 7 people upset by the suggestion that they have a little empathy for sufferers of a disease, and not one of them willing to actually say anything to you directly. I wonder if that says anything about them!

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