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Monday, October 19, 2009

Handicapped Parking is Still No For Me

Yesterday I read a story in the New York Times about handicapped parking that gives me a good excuse to update what I wrote about last July: that is l no longer use handicap parking. Apparently California is disturbed by the large number of people that use handicapped parking fraudulently. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure that increased the fine for violators of handicap parking. Repeat violators can be fined up to $1,000. California has a car culture that is unique unto itself and it is no surprise to me that the governor is upset. Since 1994, triple the number of California drivers have handicap placards. How dare those crippled people ask for the must mundane of rights! Is wide spread fraud common? Of course it is. Frauds exist in California, New York and every state between. My reaction to this hardly news worthy story is so what. Being unable to find a parking spot is an inconvenience. I have learned a lot about this inconvenience in the last few months. Since July, I have not parked in handicapped once. My political refusal to use handicap parking is going well. I have not gotten hit by a car zooming by me in a parking lot. However, I have wasted a lot of time driving around and around looking for a place to park. I have also dropped groceries pushing my wheelchair to the end of the lot where I prefer to park. I have even been yelled at by strangers who exclaim "You should not be so far away from the entrance. You are a hazard".

The above has led me to wonder if handicapped parking a right or a privilege? More generally, what does handicap parking tell us about disability in American culture. To me, handicapped parking is a privilege. It is the acknowledgment that certain people have trouble physically navigating their surrounding environment. People who are elderly and those that cannot navigate long distances come to mind. People with heart or lung disease who lack adequate circulation or breath also come to mind as do women that are nine months pregnant. But what I do not think of is the poster image for handicap parking--wheelchair users. As I wrote in July, I do not think I have the privilege to park in handicapped parking. Simply put, I am too physically fit. I reject the medical model of disability, one that would legally enable me to use handicap parking. Thus I see handicapped parking as being nothing more and nothing less about a physical impairment. My physical impairment, a spinal cord injury and resulting paralysis, does not preclude me from being physically capable. If I can ski and kayak for miles on end do I truly need handicap parking. In a word no. But am I perceived to be the iconic image for handicapped parking and that is wrong.

The debate, angst and furor over handicap parking says less about car culture than it does about our skewed perception of disability. What causes people to get upset and pass laws about handicapped parking never ceases to amuse me. These same people do not think twice about violating the ADA or the waiting lists for necessary services for people with a disability. No one thinks about institutions that warehouse people with a disability when they could with minimal support live in the community. No one complains about the barriers that exist once people park their cars and cannot enter buildings because there is no access or the "special entrance" is locked. No one wants to know why 66% of people with a disability are unemployed or why so many live below the poverty level. Instead, the average person accepts the medical model of disability without thought. Handicapped parking is for people like me, the chrome police. People like me must be protected. But what is being protected need not be protected at all. I do not care about handicapped parking, I care about my civil rights and those rights are violated on a regular basis. This sort of story is never deemed newsworthy. The iconic images associated with disability are wrong, demeaning and must change. We need to think about much more than handicapped parking. We need to think about the rights of people with a disability and consider them a distinct and insular minority group. We need to break down the barriers between groups of people with a host of different disabilities. We need solidarity. People must unite and handicapped parking is not what we need to rally around. Instead, we need to ask President Obama why he does not have a full time person on his staff working on disability rights (kareem Dale wears far too many hats and cannot do his job well). We need to listen to ADAPT and question why we do not have a Community Choice Act.

I am not sure what I can do aside from write, advocate and teach. Yet I have learned one thing in the last few months. When you don't park in handicapped parking you get a lot less door nicks on your car. No one leaves coffee cups on your hood, gum on your tires, or bangs their shopping cart into your car because they are pissed off you have a better spot to park your car. What I am thinking of doing though is giving up my handicap plates entirely. Yes, that means braving the department of motor vehicles and asking for regular plates. I wonder if I can do this via the mail. If so, my handicap plates are history. If not a trip to the motor vehicle office is in my near future. I will keep you posted.


FridaWrites said...

The irony that you were yelled at for parking in disabled parking and now for not parking in disabled parking hits hard.

You are right that disability rights issues go well beyond the parking--many ABs get stuck at that level alone. But when wheelchair van lifts are involved and the only other choice is parallel parking on the street, sometimes that's the only parking that can be used. I have yet to see a business that doesn't have disabled parking have a ramp--as we've been in the car the past few months, when I'm not driving I look at accessibility. About half of businesses I wouldn't be able to get into at all--ranging from dry cleaners to dentists to day care centers--even chiropractors and doctors. Usually that ramp up the curb, where it exists, is built between two disability parking places, though of course one could have one without the other.

It gives me some amusement, though there's more seriousness behind it, how angry people get about disability parking and the concern that disabled people are getting so much more than they are because of it. Little do they know.

Having known some people with extreme COPD and heart conditions who could walk only a few feet before getting tired out but whose homes were not ramped and who could not get wheelchairs, I'm reluctant to eliminate disability spots.

william Peace said...

Frida, Sometime you just can't win. Glad you picked up on the intended irony. There are lots of businesses that have handicap parking spots and no access near me. There are also many places where curb cuts are entirely missing or located in obscure locations. Yet no one complains about missing curb cuts or an utter lack of access. Instead they focus on peripheral issues that are meaningless.
Your point about vans in well taken. Handicap parking is very necessary in this case. And more generally handicapped parking benefits many who would struggle getting out and about.

Becs said...

I have a temporary placard that has spent 99.99% of its live in my glove compartment. I injured my leg last summer and spent a couple of weeks on crutches.

Most of the time I found parking closer to the door that didn't require the placard. Granted, door space was not an issue.

It seems like in Jersey you're automatically awarded a placard on your 65th birthday.

On the look out for parking evildoers.

william Peace said...

Becs, Even when I used handicap parking I rarely needed it. I liked the link to Caughtya. What always drives me nuts is how people leave shopping carts in the striped area. When I shop I move the carts to other parking spots thereby forcing people to move t hem so they can access their cars. This is a mild and anonymous form of protest.

Mia said...

I really appreciate your decision. As a blind person who is lucky enough to be gainfully employed, I generally do not take disability discounts (like on transportation fares and the like) because I don't need them. It has amazed me when I have been lectured or yelled at when I have stated that I'd rather pay full fare. Again, I think it is about perception of need and actual need. I don't need the discount, and would rather that those who do were able to get it without difficulty.

william Peace said...

Mia, You are a rarity--a blind and employed person. This is sad commentary about our culture as accommodations are not difficult to implement. Like you, when using mass transit I pay in full and turn down the reduced fare. This is not a popular decision and says less about one's need than the need of others. I want the people that need the reduced fare to benefit from this policy.

kimba said...

May I respectfully point out that if too many turn down such benefits the powers that be may decide that the benefits are not needed and eliminate or reduce them.

william Peace said...

Kimba, You make a good point. However, I think this is unlikely to happen given the fact 66% of people with a disability are unemployed in the US and most live at or below the poverty level. Regardless, your concern is well founded.

Warpedwoman said...

This is an issue in the UK too. In fact, on good days I can walk into the store, but I need the handicapped space (we call them disbaled spaces here) in order to be able to manage. The days I use my chair I can park a long way away but wide spaces are a real help. We have one local store that has done just that - 2 banks of handicap spaces - one near the entrance (abused by all and used by anyone who feels they can't be bothered to walk 3 extra steps) and the other is over the far side of the car park. Nice wide spaces, 'too far away' for most AB's to decide to be bothered with!
I wish it was more common.

Matthew Smith said...

Here in New Malden, the local Tesco store has both disabled parking and "extra wide" parking, for people who need the extra space but aren't disabled. The disabled parking is, as usual, right by the entrance.

I was just wondering, William, how do you manage when parking in a normal bay and transferring and getting away? Do you always find the end bay or something? Often bays are narrow (especially here, and they're getting narrower for some reason and cars are generally getting bigger it seems) and if someone parks next to you then even if you're able-bodied you might have difficulty squeezing down the gap, never mind if you can't. So I guess having disabled parking makes things more efficient elsewhere, so they can make everyone else squeeze sideways between their own and other people's dirty cars! (Not to mention that there are some people who might choose to block you just for fun.)

Perhaps the solution to the disabled parking violation issue is for security to watch who's using them, so that if someone parks up in the most convenient space and then strolls into the store without so much as a limp, they can fine him, but if an elderly person who isn't technically disabled parks up and then limps in, that's OK. But not every car park has such security, of course.

lauredhel said...

"Perhaps the solution to the disabled parking violation issue is for security to watch who's using them, so that if someone parks up in the most convenient space and then strolls into the store without so much as a limp, they can fine him"

This doesn't make any sense to me. You know that not everyone with major mobility limitations has unilateral leg pain, right?

william Peace said...

Mathew, Yes, narrow spots are a problem. I either park off center leaving what I hope will be enough room to open the door all the way. Alternatively I park so far away I am almost assured no one will park next to me.

On enforcement: some municipalities allow people with a disability to write tickets. I have mixed feelings about this as there are all sorts of visible and invisible disabilities.

In my neighborhood the police strictly enforce handicapped parking and the fines are hefty. The policemen that I know all wish they could go after the fraudulent people that do not need permits. More than anything else, this is where change must come from. How do we as a society get people to realize disability is not about parking but civil rights. If this was broadly understood fraud would not take place--or at least I hope it would not.

Catherine said...

I would get the placard and keep it for when needed. There are times when the condition of the lot is such that without parking nearby, it is difficult, dangerous or impossible for someone in a chair to get into a place. I've seen this a number of times taking my MIL who is wheel chair bound to places.

Since I am driving, I can get up close, get her out and then park, since getting her to the building in chair is not a good option. If she were driving herself, she would have to park in one of the handicapped spots to be able to get to where she wants to go.

Here parking space is at a premium, and so often one has to park on the street, across the street from the building. That is when a few handicapped spots and the placard become important.

william Peace said...

Catherine, I suppose I could get one of those placards. However, there is really no instance where it is either dangerous or impossible to get from a parking lot to where I want to go. I may feel differently once ski season starts but for now I remain willing to park far away.