I was talking to my friend Kate the other day, and she was telling me how a few days before, when she pulled into her friend’s apartment complex, someone was parked in the handicap space. The car did not have handicap plates, nor did it have a placard hanging in the window. There were plenty of empty regular parking spaces around, including the one right next to the car, so Kate parked there.
We encounter this sort of thing all the time. Every time I would go to pick up my daughter from school, there were cars parked in the handicap spots that did not have handicap placards or plates. After a few times of watching them leave their other kids in the car to go get the one coming out of school, it was pretty obvious that they didn’t just forget to hang the placard.
Despite the schools population of about 500 kids, the school parking lot is tiny. 20 spaces tops. So all the spaces were taken. Some might find this a valid reason for them to park in the handicap spots. Let me explain why it’s not.
- It’s against the law. Plain and simple. Interestingly, when a police car is parked near the school parking lot, non-handicap vehicles do not park in the handicap spaces.
- By parking there, they are saving themselves the inconvenience of parking at the curb farther away. Which means a handicap person (such as I) who needs the spot has to park at a curb farther away. It is very difficult for a handicap person to walk that far (especially while carrying a baby). That’s why they have handicap spaces. Sure some, like me, have a wheelchair. Have you ever tried to wheel a wheelchair up hill and over curbs? Not easy.
I ended up going to the school office and asking if they could do something to try to ensure that non-handicap cars didn’t park there. They were very helpful and said they too had noticed the problem and would take care of it. One of the cars that parked there no longer does. Another, however, and decided that parking in the white lines between the spaces is a good alternative. This is also a bad idea, because someone that needed to use a wheelchair or had trouble stepping up the curb, would not be able to get to the sidewalk.
Another thing we see a lot is people that decide it’s okay to park there if you’re just letting someone else run in and you’re going to stay in the car and keep it running. Newsflash: This is still taking up the space. When a handicap person comes along, they still cannot park there because your car is there. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, probably the only reason you would need to stay in and keep the car running is so you can quickly pull out should you see a police officer.
To my readers, please remember not to take up the handicap spaces if you are not handicap, or the lined spaces next to them. Instead, thank God for your ability to walk from that parking space that seems like it’s at the other end of the world, and see it as an opportunity to get some exercise.
There is another side of the problem of handicap parking: The fact that while I’m sitting in a car, I do not ‘appear’ to be handicap. Why is this a problem? Well, to me it’s not. But to the many people who glare at me as I pull into a handicap space, apparently it is. Since I can remember, even as a child, when our family pulls into the handicap space, passers-by slow down to check the plates, check for a placard (which we haven’t had time to hang yet), and smirk. Sometimes they were satisfied when we hung the placard. Other times they would keep staring and glaring until the saw the leg braces or the limping.
I thought this would end once I got handicap license plates. It didn’t. People still smirk and stare and ask if we know we’re parked in a handicap space. It’s usually elderly people in adjacent handicap spots that do this. Many have ‘under their breath’ complained that young people today are selfish and rude and have no respect. Usually I hear them choke on their words as we get out of the car and they watch us walk away. However, after a particularly unpleasant experience in a Walmart parking lot I made this Facebook post:
“Dear elderly people in the Walmart parking lot,
Normally, your staring and smirking and double checking my plates as I pull into the handicap space would provoke me to quickly get out of the car, start walking, and smile at you in that kill-em-with-kindness sort of way. However, today has not been my day, so it looks like it’s not going to be yours either. The fact that I am young and thin and wear makeup has nothing to do with why I’m parking in this space, but way to judge a book by its cover. You have your parking spot, so I really don’t know what you are so concerned about. And to the gentleman who when I was here earlier pointed out that I ‘appear’ to be a good mother despite my obviously crooked legs, thank you, I really needed your affirmation; and you’re right, there is no way to say that without being rude.
Your friendly handicap shopper”
Ok, so it wasn’t my best day temper wise. Next time I’ll take a deep breath and count to ten.
There was a time when I felt like I was in the wrong. A time when I felt like I needed to quickly jump out of the car and parade myself around because I owed them an explanation. I no longer feel that way. While I know how frustrating it is to have a handicap space taken by someone who doesn’t need it, while I am forced to park at the other end of the parking lot, I also realize that handicap does not have a ‘look’. That handicap spaces are not only for the elderly or obese. That the owner of the vehicle may have simply forgotten to hang the placard. In fact, as many times as I forgot to hang mine, I’m still kind of in shock that I never got a ticket.
So, friends, the lesson here is that the ability to walk across a parking lot is not over-rated; and never judge a book by its cover.
Handicap does not have a ‘look’.