Sunday, September 7, 2003

Alive & Well

Designated parking spots abused

In the late '70s and early '80s, a few episodes of a popular TV drama slipped in a scene or two of a guy in a wheelchair who, vigilante-style, zipped around parking spaces spray-painting the windows of cars illegally parked in spaces marked for the handicapped. It made you smile (made me smile anyway) but it definitely got the point across.

That was more than 20 years ago - long before we had the Americans with Disabilities Act or politically correct language referencing disability. Still, as soon as we began having those reserved parking spaces, there were people without disabilities laying claim to them.

I thought about that spray-painting defender of civil rights the other day while puzzling over yet another letter regarding parking violations. A reader wrote of his distress that his boss, now sporting a blue and white placard from his rearview mirror thanks to a family member's recent surgery, was repeatedly using one of the few designated spaces in the company's parking area. What, this reader wanted to know, do I think of such acts?

The truth is that abuse of the parking privilege for handicapped people has gone on since the concept of such spaces went into action and, rather than diminishing, it seems to me the problem just keeps mushrooming. The question inspires me to ask another question: What is wrong with us as a people that we can't just respect this simple law and leave it alone?

There was a time not so long ago, when we didn't see people buzzing around in power wheelchairs or making their way through shopping malls with walkers or crutches. That's because most of them were stuck at home. When our attitudes and technologies became a bit more civilized 30-some years ago, the number of people with disabilities driving cars and riding in them increased. Recognizing that it is difficult for some people to traverse vast expanses of parking lot unassisted or at all, a simple and courteous solution seemed to be to designate some convenient spaces as reserved for people with disabilities.

But everyone wants those spaces and feels entitled to them.

The reader who just wrote to me knows his boss doesn't have a disability and yet witnesses the man repeatedly parking in a handicapped space. Family members of the person issued the placard or license plate are probably the worst offenders. That handy little card is still in the car when your disabled child or parent isn't and it's just so much easier to park close "just for a minute." Then there are those drivers who sort of "inherited" the placard from a deceased spouse or parent and, well, if you provided all that care to the loved one, you deserve the parking privilege, right? And, of course, in many urban areas where parking is at a premium, there have been those resourceful individuals who have made a nifty little profit selling counterfeit or ill-gotten placards.

Ironically, I've heard many people whose doctors believe they need special parking privileges say that they feel guilty using them. In other words, you might have someone with a hip replacement declining to fill up one of the designated spaces, and an able-bodied athlete pull into it five minutes later.

Sure, there are fines for abusing the law and, in many areas, advocacy groups have rallied to place citation information on the windows of cars illegally parked.

Walking an extra 30 or 40 or 200 feet across a parking lot, if we are able to do so without pain, is such a simple thing. Being grateful that we don't need that closer space should be sufficient motive for parking elsewhere. Obviously, just expecting everybody to do the right thing isn't working. Maybe the guy in the wheelchair with the spray paint had a better idea.

Contact Debra Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:


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KENDRICK: Designated parking spots abused