Many businesses have reserved a few parking spaces near the entrance to make it easier for people with disabilities to come and go since the 1960’s. As a result, the symbol for people with disabilities is one of the most recognizable symbols in America today. Despite the fact that people can easily recognize the symbol and know what it means, many people abuse such parking spaces and use them not because they need to, but because they are lazy. My family and I have seen and confronted numerous people who have abused parking for people with disabilities since I was a little girl. The typical response when we call someone out on this is, “Oh I am only going to be in here for five minutes.” The fact is that whether someone who does not have a disability is in a parking space reserved for someone with a disability for five minutes or five days that person is breaking the law. As a result they could face a fine of up to $500. Many able-bodied people do not realize that when they park in spaces reserved for people with disabilities illegally just because it is convenient they could potentially be trapping someone in their vehicle by not giving them enough room to put down their lift and get out. How would you feel if someone parked to where you did not have enough room to get of your car? Next time you are faced with this situation ask yourself, is being five minutes ahead of schedule worth potentially trapping someone in his/her vehicle and risking a fine?
The issue of all parking reserved for people with disabilities being taken occurs more often these days because placards are requested and prescribed very liberally. It seems anyone with even the slightest impairment can go to a doctor and request a placard. It has gotten bad enough to where comedian Jay Leno is often making jokes about how people who have eaten too much pizza or cheesecake are now able to use parking reserved for people with disabilities. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are many people who legitimately need placards, but it seems like there are also some who do not and are taking advantage of the system out of laziness. When it occurs to you that you’d like to have a placard take a moment and ask yourself, do I really need this? Some of you probably work at companies that have reserved parking for people in leadership positions. Let me ask you, why is it that people will never park in spots reserved for a President/CEO, but will not hesitate before taking a space reserved for people with disabilities? The consequence of up to a $500 fine does not seem to bother most people because it is seen as less disrespectful to park in a space reserved for people with disabilities than to park in a space reserved for a President/CEO without permission. Most people would never park in a space reserved for someone in a leadership position at their place of work for fear it would be seen as disrespectful and they would face consequences. But for some reason, the same thought does not occur to some people when it comes to parking in spaces reserved for people with disabilities. Over the past few years people parking illegally in spaces for people with disabilities has become such an issue that the police departments in many different cities have been making sure the law is enforced and people face consequences. People with disabilities had to fight to make others in society realize we truly needed reserved parking. The fight not only got us reserved parking, but also paved the way for other groups like expectant mothers. People in leadership roles are often respected for their status and what they have had to accomplish to achieve it. Shouldn’t people with disabilities `be respected for winning the fight for the reserved parking that we need and deserve? Is it fair for able-bodied people to take advantage of something they did not fight for? Think about that the next time it occurs to you that it may be easier to use a parking space reserved for people with disabilities.
Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2012 edition of the Access Center for Independent Living newsletter, the Accessible Community Examiner, which I wrote for the two and half years I worked there. The Access Center for Independently is a non-profit in Dayton, Ohio that works to ensure that people with disabilities have full and complete access to the community in which they choose to live.