Saturday, April 15, 2017

Handicapped Parking is a Necessity, not a Luxury

That is a phrase I've wanted to scream from the top of my lungs since the day I started using a handicapped placard. Before my spinal cord injury, I was just as oblivious and uneducated as the next person. Quite honestly, I was content being blissfully ignorant about what the handicapped symbol actually stood for and what the term "disability" meant in general. I'm ashamed about it, but don't we all avoid the things that make us uncomfortable? This is a good example of one of those topics. Now that this has actually become my own reality, I've learned first hand what difficulties, struggles, and annoyances those with disabilities face. A lot of the struggles I face are out of my control, but I feel like a few of them are actually something I can change by educating others and bring attention to them. Now, I'm not really sure how many people are actually going to listen to me, of all people, but it's worth a shot, right? So let me enlighten you...

You'd think by saying "handicapped parking is a necessity," that would be all the words that needed to be spoken. But, no, not in today's society. We all think we deserve something and if someone else has it, then everyone should have it. We are entitled to the same "privileges." Trust me, this is NOT a privilege. Matter of fact, whenever there is enough space for me to get in and out of my car, I don't even park in a handicapped spot. Can you believe that? And I actually know a lot of people that do this.

We don't park close because of the distance and so called convenience. We park close because those are the only spots with those dashed lines next to them that allow us to open the door wide enough and throw our chair out of the car so we can assemble it..or let down a ramp from our accessible vehicle. That's what those lines are.

I remember thinking that they were just random lines taking up a perfectly good parking spot...and I wonder how many people think the same. That's why I try to be tolerant of other people's ignorance, but it's flat out hard sometimes. If we don't have those lines next to the side of the vehicle we were exiting and entering, we can't get in or out. Our chair isn't going to fit and we definitely aren't going to be able to open the door wide enough to transfer in/out and then assemble the chair.

If we parked in a regular spot and no one was next to us, allowing us to get out, that would be fine. But what happens when someone does park too close by the time we come back to our vehicle? We can't just get in the other side of our car and climb over. It isn't that easy. And what if we did require a ramp to be let down from our van? There's absolutely no way around that if someone is too close.

You wouldn't believe the number of people who totally disregard those access lines and actually use them as a parking spot. Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? Well, it happens. I was actually in Philadelphia a couple weeks ago and when I got to the parking garage to get into my vehicle, someone was parked in the dashed lines next to me, exactly where I needed to go. Luckily, she was still in her vehicle. I politely (and I mean politely, because I always try to make people feel guilty before I totally unleash all the attitude I have in me) told her I needed to get into the vehicle next to her in my wheelchair. She was kind of rude about it and I just told her "that's a handicapped spot." You'll never guess what her reply was..."I'm handicapped too!" As she pulled away with her window open, I told her "if you were truly handicapped, you would never park on those lines." Seriously though, you just wouldn't. I'm glad I came out of the hotel when I did because I'm pretty sure she was going to park there and then I would have been completely screwed.

And honestly, if you need a handicapped spot for whatever your disability is, you should be considerate enough to leave the spots with the access lane open if there is another space you can pull into. I really feel like there should be some kind of education course on how to appropriately use your handicapped placard, because the ignorance doesn't just extend to the people not affected by a disability or never having to use a handicapped placard. People that have the placard for whatever reason continue to use it, even if they no longer need to. They think "well, it's just this one time" or "I'll be real quick" or "it's raining" or, simply, "I'm old, I deserve this."

Doctors are so lax in how they give these placards out, and the DMV lets it be that way. Last November, my temporary tags ran out and I had to go through the process of getting a more permanent one. I saw the list of reasons for getting a placard on the DMV paperwork that I had to fill out for my doctor and was completely blown away. I'm not trying to be judgmental, and I know there are some good reasons for some of them, but you can get those "prime parking spots" for having a learning disability or being under 4'11". Like I said, there's probably a good reason, but if I don't have one of those access lanes to assemble my chair, I literally can't get out of my vehicle. And I shouldn't avoid doing things in public just because I'm afraid of the parking. It's bad enough that I have to deal with a wheelchair, I shouldn't let ever other aspect of my life be affected by it as well. I shouldn't stop doing the things I love or going places I enjoy.

The dates on these placards are sometimes good for over five years. So if your grandma gets a knee replacement and needs one for a couple months, she may still be using it four years later. Granted, some older people may need to park closer. I'm not doubting that. I know many older folks that park close because if they spent all their energy walking in the parking lot, they wouldn't be able to walk around the store to get what they need. But not everyone is like this. There is NEVER a handicapped spot open at my gym because all the older people park there, then go inside for their water aerobics and to WALK on the track! Figure that one out. The staff actually confronted some of these people about that once and, come to find out, people were just doing it "out of habit," or because it was a family member's tag and they were just used to using those spots when that person was with them. What???

People use the excuse of "I'm just going to be a minute." Well, what if I don't have a minute to wait on you? And especially when it's raining, ugh! You parking close isn't getting you to the front door any faster than me. I have to assemble my chair, transfer out of my car, and then get into the building. And guess what? I can't even hold an umbrella. My hands are busy propelling me to where I need to go, getting wet and muddy in the process, and even if I'm wearing a rain jacket, it isn't going to protect me that much. Unless it's a poncho, my legs still getting wet. And my chair will definitely still get wet, which will affect me for the next however many hours it takes for it to air dry.

People that actually need those handicapped spots would give up that "privilege" in a heartbeat. Ask any one of us. It's not a luxury. It truly is a necessity. We aren't lazy, we certainly aren't saving ourselves any time, and we hate that we have to be labeled as "handicapped."


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