Handicapped parking spaces. This seems to be a never-ending topic in the disabled world. There seems to be four types of people who park in these spaces: 1) People who are not handicapped but are using someone else’s placard; 2) People who had an injury and had a temporary need for it, no longer need it, but still use it; 3) People with legitimate injuries or disabilities who technically are able to use it, but are able enough to park in a regular spot (read: don’t use wheelchairs, etc.); and 4) People who 100% need the space to get mobility devices in and out.
The first two categories are obvious violators. You should know better than to use a disabled space. They are not meant for convenience. They are not just closer parking. They serve real purposes, which you should know because a) you’re a rational human being; and b) you or someone close to you had the need for a space and know how hard they are to come by.
Number 3 is tricky. I always hear people justify their use of disabled spaces because they have an inner disability you can’t necessarily see, so they are entitled to the space. I get that. I was like that before becoming paralyzed. Toward the end (meaning, before my surgery) I could barely shuffle 3 steps without falling down. It was bad. So I would use handicapped spaces if there weren’t any close open regular spots. But if there were non-handicapped spots close to the door, I would use that. All too often I go places where there are plenty of open regular spaces, but people without mobility assisting devices jump out. If there are open spaces, please use them instead of the handicapped parking.
Number 4 is obvious. Seriously. If you need more clarification, then you probably should not be driving in general.
Let me explain something else: the sheer terror that I feel when all the handicapped spots are taken. I need space to get my wheelchair out of my car. If I’m with the hubs (or someone else), then a regular spot is fine, because they can pull the car out to give me room to get in and out and for them to take my chair apart. The hubs has had to do this many, many times. And that’s fine. But if I am by myself, I can’t do that. Even if I park in a regular space and give plenty of room, there’s no assurance that that car won’t leave and a new one will park in it’s place taking up my carefully planned room. Then I’m stuck. It’s not like I can ask a perfect stranger to move my car for me to get in and out. I also can’t park on most streets, because there isn’t enough room to be able to open my door fully and assemble my wheelchair. Call me crazy but I’d rather not end up roadkill. The fear of not being able to park my car is overwhelming.
Just yesterday, I had to park 3 block away from the courthouse, because all of the spots were taken. And oddly, I didn’t see one person in a wheelchair or walker. I had to call the courtroom and explain to the clerk that I was probably going to be late because I had to park so far away and roll uphill to get to the courthouse. Having to park 3 blocks away meant I had to cross two very busy streets several times. That’s always a worry, because I am low to the ground. And people are careless. I’ve almost been hit several times. Now a non-wheelchair person may say they had to park 3 blocks away and walk and that’s tough for them. However, there were still plenty of regular spots available where they could have parked. The spots at this particular place were way too narrow for me to park, and the court was busy enough that I couldn’t take up 2 spots. Sometimes I end up doing that: parking far in the back of a given parking lot and taking up 2 spots. I hang my disabled placard hoping that someone won’t think I just want to take up unnecessary room. But that still makes me uneasy too. I know people in wheelchairs who purposely park at the far end of parking lots in 2 spaces so they get the added exercise. That is all fine and dandy, but again I worry that I will get hit and that’s not a chance I love to take, especially now that I’m rolling with a baby.
There’s all this talk about changing the signs to take off the wheelchair guy because you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to be handicapped. So true. However! If you look at the spacing between the spots, it is designed for wheelchairs. The van parking is designed for ramps and lifts. Wheelchairs need clearance! We need to be able to get our chairs in and out of our cars. It’s not just about being close to the doors, even though I joke about that all the time.
I can’t emphasize enough how overwhelming it is to worry about something so trivial as a parking space. But, when it comes to being a disabled person, it’s usually the trivial things that end up mattering the most. Please, please, please don’t take parking for granted. And please don’t park in a handicapped space unless you 100% with no other options need to.