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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Politics of Handicapped Parking

In the last year I have noticed a change in handicapped parking. This change has nothing to do with the fact the spots are always filled by people that do not appear to be handicapped. Frankly, I am so discouraged that I rarely try to park in this area. However, in the last few months I have concluded that I no longer have the right to park in handicapped parking. If I can can ski and kayak for miles upon miles do I really need to be 10 feet from the entrance to the supermarket? My son and I jokingly call handicapped parking "old people parking". We do not mean this in a nasty way. There are many elderly residents near our home who need to park close to the entrance. I watch these people get out of their car and slowly walk to the supermarket and think to myself they need the spot far more than I do. The main problem I have parking is that I need extra space to get in and out of my car. The wide spaces in handicapped parking are ideal. Instead I now tend to park off center or far away and take a spot where I doubt a person will use the park next to me. This works most of the time.

In the odd event I use handicapped parking I have noted a new phenomenon is taking place. When use handicapped parking some people object to my presence. Perhaps the fact I drive a VW SUV replete with kayak racks figures into their objection. And yes the people that object to my presence cannot help but know I use a wheelchair. The people who object are usually elderly or little kids. To me, this is a sign of social progress. The little kids want to know "why should that guy use handicapped parking?" This is a good question. If people with a disability want to reject the medical model of disability this is one consequence. Hence I too wonder why do I have handicapped parking plates? The practical answer is yes I need handicapped plates. I need the plates not because I need to be close to the entrance know traversing the parking lot is dangerous. I cannot tell you how many times I have nearly been hit by a car speeding along in the parking lot. Thus when I go to the mall or a super store like the Home Depot I use handicapped parking. I don't like doing this one bit. Sure handicapped parking is abused in the extreme. I estimate half of the people that use these spots have no need to use them and I wonder if I fit within this group.

When an elderly person asks me why I am in handicapped parking they take a long look at my car and the kayak roof rack. Often they remark I look fit, strong, and bet I could push my wheelchair far and paddle my boat a long way. This observation is correct. Like the little kids that ask me about handicapped parking, these elderly folks have a point. A good one at that. The question "why do I use handicapped parking" reinforces that I need to live by what I preach. I always write about the same topic on this blog and hammer home a civil rights viewpoint. Hence when I read the following words by Sandy Lahmann in the Summit Daily News I decided I no longer have the right to park in handicapped parking:

"It's time to recognize that disability is not always a medical experience. The medical aspects of disability are not the defining aspects of disability. Throw out the medical model.
Instead, disability rights activists promote the socio-political model of disability. Disability is not a medical problem. Disability is a social and political problem. It's not my medical status as a person with a disability that holds me back or gets in my way. It's my social and political status as a person with a disability that holds me back and gets in my way.
The biggest problems for myself and other people with disabilities include difficulty obtaining meaningful employment despite having education and skills, being stuck as a result with an income below poverty level, difficulty accessing transportation services, and prejudicial attitudes."

Ms. Lahmann is 100% correct. The problems I confront daily are social and have nothing to do with parking near the entrance to stores where I shop. I will leave those spots to the people that have a demonstrated physical need. My refusal to use handicapped parking is political and practical. If I am going to preach about and advocate for a social model of disability I need to live my life in a way that reflects that stance. At the practical level, I do not have a demonstrated physical need to park in handicapped parking. Hence, I am not truly entitled to use these spots. My use of them now is based on an out dated medical model of disability. The real test of my dedication to a social model of disability will come in the days, weeks and months to come. I am not going to go to motor vehicles and change my plates. That would be too much of a hassle, one hard to explain to a disinterested New York State Employee (though a perverse part of me would like to have this social encounter). The real challenge will come when it is rainy or snowy and the parking lot is filled. Will I drive around and around like millions of others or will I snag one of those prime spots near the entrance. I for one hope I have the dedication to live by words and political beliefs. As my son points out to me once in a while, "Dad, equality sucks".


FridaWrites said...

Bill, I have only read half the blog because I have to leave, but put your safety first. Riding behind SUV's in parking lots is dangerous, and I've nearly been hit too. Anyone questioning you is ignorant. *Everyone* parking in handicap parking gets criticized for it. I had more difficulty with distance when I was walking and needed the places when I could get them, but the road hazards are real.

People are very ignorant. The sign has a wheelchair on it, and I've heard some people with wheelchairs say it should be for wheelchairs only. Conversely, I've also heard that it should be for walkers only--most wheelies can go further faster.

Becs said...

During my recent and very brief experience on crutches, I got a temporary handicapped parking hang-tag. As it turned out, I used it only once.

One time when I really needed it (ironically, in the municipal building parking lot), all the spaces were filled and I ended up parking about 100 yards away.

I think everyone in New Jersey is awarded a blue placard on attaining his / her 62nd birthday.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

William, you are a winner.

FridaWrites said...

I finished reading--I had to chuckle about exchanging plates for regular plates--I'll bet that's never happened.

I do understand that sentiment. I use a wheelchair lift that places me right behind cars--I have to put the scooter behind another car while I lower or raise the lift back into the car after I've gotten out. I've had some near misses because of this in busy places so I like that access aisle. Like you, I prefer shopping at off hours, not when it's crowded. Too difficult otherwise.

lilacsigil said...

For some reason, the local council made it very difficult for my shop (a pharmacy) to have a disabled parking spot in front, despite the fact that we're on a hill, have poor footpaths, and have many customers with much-needed disability placards. Apparently having a disabled parking spot means that "people will overstay" - in a town so small it has no parking time limits! Eventually we got the disabled space, which is frequently used by people who need it - and now the federal government wants to make most of our customers ineligible.

william Peace said...

Frida, I must confess I sometimes force a conversation or mess with people's minds about disability. However, I have no interest in trying to contact a human being at motor vehicles. As I am sure you are asked "What happened to you" I sometime reply as follows. I get a puzzled look on my face look down at myself, check the fly on my pants and look for a stain on my shirt. I then ask "what do you mean, I am fine, is there a stain on my clothes'. This always annoys the person dumb enough to ask such a rude and intrusive question.
Lila, I don't know much about the laws in Australia as they pertain to handicapped parking (I do like the signs though). It is my impression that the medical model of disability is deeply ingrained in Australian culture. In the US the resistance to handicapped parking is often tied to strict codes. The irony to me is that these codes are routinely violated. At the local strip mall near my home handicapped parking is grossly mislabeled and signs are missing. Directly in front of one ramp is a drain making passage impossible. I brought this up with the local building inspector five years ago. Nothing has been done.

FridaWrites said...

I will have to use that one!

Lila, thanks for the information--I am interested in access in other countries.

elaainejoyce said...

I have two bad knees.I try to grab a cart and use it as a walker. I go in the store, get just what I need and get out.I can't get a handicapped tag.
My girlfriend bounces out of the car, shops all day at the mall. She has a handicapped tag. Go figure..