Handicapped parking is one of those issues that tends to bring out the very best and the very worst in people. Some people think it’s essential, while others think it’s a waste of space. I think most people would agree that those who are disabled should have the same rights and opportunities as those are able bodied, but disagreements arise when trying to decide the best way to ensure that that happens. And of course, should everyone who has a disability qualify for a parking pass? Who decides? These are difficult questions with difficult answers.
The most basic question is: should we force businesses to make accommodations on their property and if so, to what extent. Jay is a libertarian (with a degree in economics) and tends to favour as little government interference as possible. And I agree with him- on paper. In theory, it is a wise business decision to make your service or product as accessible as reasonably possible. Why would you knowingly make it difficult for a sizable percent of the population to access your business? Sadly though, many managers and decision makers are unable to see the bigger picture and only look at short term profits instead of long term gain. So what is the appropriate solution? I think a lot of the anger towards handicapped parking comes from the fact that they never seem to be in use! Handicapped seating on pubic transit is a perfect example of an appropriate accommodation that works efficiently (usually). Once the bus is full you are welcome to use the priority seating UNLESS it is needed by someone for whom it was designed. Rarely do you see someone refuse to give up a seat to someone who is ill, disabled, pregnant, or elderly. I doubt that there is a realistic way to translate that to parking, but perhaps the number of mandated spots should be reduced. I mean really, the purpose of these spots is not to ensure that a disabled person will never, no matter what, ever be forced to wait for a spot (like the average driver).
So, once we’ve mandated that handicapped spots must be available, who gets to use them? Do you have to be physically disabled or does mental disability count? What if you are disabled but having a good day? Should you allow someone who is more in need to park there? Or what if, like Sherri and Debbie, you have an invisible disability and regularly get harassed for using handicapped parking even though you are doing so legally? I sympathize with these women having struggled with invisible disabilities myself. It gets tiring having to explain yourself all the time.
There are a lot of handicapped parking vigilantes out there who make it their life’s goal to reprimand those who appear to break the law. There are also just as many people out there that do abuse the system, either because they don’t think they are hurting anyone or because they just don’t care. A quick Google search will show hundreds, if not thousands of stories about disabled people being severely inconvenienced by someone parking in a disabled spot when they didn’t need it.
I can understand someone who parks in a reserved spot when there are 10 empty ones and all the regular parking is full and they are only going to be 5 minutes. Of course it’s still illegal, but realistically it is a pretty safe call (and, like the public transit analogy, arguably fair and efficient). However, I don’t understand people who use these spots when there are only a couple available, or when there are plenty of regular spots, or even when someone who is more in need is also vying for the space. It’s the attitudes of these people that make the whole system miserable for everyone. Take William’s story for example: he couldn’t access his car due to someone else blocking in his passenger side (where he enters the car) and when he confronted them about parking illegally they dismissed it and then turned around and blamed him! As bad as that was through, nothing can top the story of the 71 year old Wisconsin woman who was actually body checked over a handicapped parking spot by a woman who didn’t even have a valid license or disability permit. She underwent 5 hours of surgery to fix a broken leg and had to have her recent hip replacement redone! How does someone decide that risking jail time and a huge fine (not to mention injuring another human being) outweighs the extra 2 minute walk? Are we really that sad?
Despite these horrors we do have to take a look at the system, because there are some glaring holes that, in my opinion, gradually lead to the kind of anger and resentment that is shown in the stories above. We should strive for a society where people only use these resources if they really need them (regardless of whether they have a disability or not) and where people do not judge those who do. The ultimate irony comes when you hear stories like this one:
Ironically, this driver had completely obstructed the sidewalk ramp, prohibiting anyone using a wheelchair, stroller, or grocery cart from crossing or accessing the sidewalk from the street, and impeding visibility for all pedestrians and motorists.
When disabled people start knowingly making life difficult for other disabled people what is there left to say? Are we really so self absorbed as a race that we can’t stop and think about how our actions affect those around us? Do we really need laws to make us civil?
But seriously, come on NYC, this is bordering on ridiculous.