Dear person with the handicap placard hanging from your rearview window,
I see you’ve pulled into the only handicapped spot by this entrance to the Boardwalk. You feel the need to take this spot despite being healthy enough to get out of your car, change into a wetsuit, grab a surfboard and carry it unassisted to the beach. I have carried a surfboard five steps and wanted to die so I can kind of understand why you might want to park closer to the beach. But seeing as you’re at least ten years younger than me and totally ripped I doubt you’d have been out of breath if you parked your car back a couple blocks and left the handicapped spot for someone who didn’t obviously snag his grandmother’s placard.
Maybe your grandmother likes to share her placard with everyone in the family. Maybe it was your sister that pulled into the handicapped spot next to our family at the zoo. We arrived before the zoo opened and got a great spot. While the front of the zoo is wonderfully accessible, the parking lots further back in the park are a bit bumpy for Fulton’s chair. I’m sure the young mom and her friend who were healthy enough to load up a car full of small children and haul them around the zoo all day could have made those same little feet walk an extra 100 steps to the regular parking lot, but I don’t know, maybe the allure of using the placard to get a great spot next to the food court trumps the needs of families like ours.
I wasn’t going to rant on and on about parking spaces until I took all the kids to the library yesterday and saw the first few handicapped spots, which are the most van accessible, taken up by a pickup truck and the sprinkler company. Maybe these people don’t realize that when you take the van accessible spots you make it much harder for someone like me to use my van with a side lift. Maybe you don’t realize that when someone parks next to me, my totally tricked out handicap van is worthless. I might as well park it in the drainage ditch out back.
Once when I took Fulton to physical therapy, all the handicapped spots were taken, so I parked way out in the far side of the lot with no one around. We unloaded, in the rain, and went in. As we left and walked to our van, still in the rain, I realized one other person had parked in the side lot, directly next to my van and blocked my lift. Despite all the signs on the side of my van saying “DON’T PARK WITHIN 8 FEET : WHEELCHAIR LIFT”. I had to leave Fulton in the lobby and move the van. Obviously, Fulton was thrilled to see his mother run off and drive around while some strange woman offered to stand next to him and make small talk. (I have since considered patenting a device that will yell, in Samuel L. Jackson’s voice, “Don’t park next to the MF van MF! Can’t you read?” any time someone tries to slide up next to us. [And if you don't know what I mean by MF, don't ask.])
I know many people not in wheelchairs who need handicap license plates or placards because walking is a real hardship. But I also know it’s possible to get handicap tags for a variety of other reasons. (See #9. Got a doctor you like? Together I’m sure you can get that handicap tag.) But I’m going to say people in wheelchairs need those few spots more than many of you. I think once someone has a tag, their instinct is to just take a handicapped spot, even if it’s the last or only van acceptable spot, even when the row directly behind them is mostly empty. I can’t unload my family in that spot period, and I can’t squeeze a powerchair through parked cars.
I don’t want to be some spokeswoman and get up on my soap box and rant about discrimination towards the disabled. (Or is it better to say “differently abled”? See I’m not PC enough for this job.) I would just like to open people eyes to the fact that 90 percent this world is not accessible for people in powerchairs. When you park out of habit in a van accessible spot because “I have a handicap tag” you are making it harder for my son to just get into a building. You will sit there idling, waiting to pick someone up or just, I don’t know, eating a sandwich and stare at our van as I work the lift and unload Fulton three rows back. Will I get parked in by the time I need to leave? You don’t care you just think “Oh what a cute kid in a wheelchair” while I try to drive him around your car and up the ramp placed next to that spot for people like him, not people eating sandwiches in their cars.
I wish everyone knew someone in a wheelchair. I didn’t until Fulton received his. And then I realized how this world is not designed for them. I have many more years ahead of telling Fulton, and Teddy, they can’t go there or do that because there’s no ramp or no parking. A little bit of consideration from other handicap drivers who are still able to step up a curb, walk between a row of parked cars and use the entrance with steps would honestly make a big difference for families like us. And perhaps a two tiered parking system could be put in place; spots for wheelchair vans only (no other handicap tags allowed) as well as other handicapped spots. At least at larger shopping centers, malls, medical offices etc. I have no allusions about ever successfully visiting Historic Williamsburg from here on out, but I should at least be able to get into Target.
In conclusion handicap placard stealer, next time you are considering taking the last van accessible spot because you’re running late or “will just be a minute” please remember this face: