Last evening Fran, Rhiannon and I went out on what we jokingly call our “hot Friday night date” — which usually consists of eating at an inexpensive, vegan-friendly restaurant and then visiting a local bookshop. Last night it was Borders, where of course the going out of business sale was just too appealing not to pass up (I found two treasures: Each Moment is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time by Dainin Katagiri, and In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi). But the point behind my griping is not about the bookstore, but about what happened at the burrito joint where we went to eat.
Now granted, we were at one of the most popular burrito joints in downtown Atlanta, with a small parking lot, at dinner time on a Friday evening. So it was busy. But that’s really not an excuse for what happened. Twice — as we were arriving, and as we were leaving, someone parked illegally by the handicapped curb-cut in front of the restaurant. A different person each time. I can imagine that each of those persons was just picking up dinner to go, and thought “Oh, I’ll only be here for a minute” and so parked in the spot adjacent to the handicapped spot, marked out with diagonal lines because it’s in front of the curb-cut. And they went inside to get their dinner — and left my daughter in her wheelchair without access.
One of the drivers came out, with a bag full of burritos, to get in her car as we were standing there. I approached her and pointed to my daughter and told her how inconsiderate it was for her to block the curb-cut. She just shrugged and said “Sorry” in a flat voice, got in her SUV and drove away. (As it turned out, both times it was an SUV blocking the curb-cut. I try not to be prejudicial in my thinking, but these two particular SUV drivers sure played into a given stereotype).
Now, I’ll make a confession. Before Rhiannon came in my life, I didn’t understand handicapped parking. I thought some places had too many handicapped spots. Guess what? I never have that thought anymore. Now it’s usually the other way: I marvel at how few handicapped parking spots, or van accessible parking, or curb-cuts there are. There’s a restaurant we like to frequent in Watkinsville, GA, near where my father lives in a nursing home. This establishment is in a relatively new shopping complex, with a half dozen or so businesses on each side of a driveway. Plenty of parking — but only two handicapped spots, and two curb-cuts, both at the far end of the shopping center from where the restaurant we frequent is located. Why the designers didn’t bother to put handicapped parking and curb-cuts at the other end is beyond me.
I was really tempted to say something nasty to the lady in the SUV last night, something like, “Well, I hope it won’t take you winding up in a wheelchair for you to learn how rude you’re being.” But my better angel prevailed, and I kept that thought to myself. But I’m posting it here, because I think it does need to be said. It seems to me that people who park in handicapped parking spots when they don’t have a permit to do so, or who mindlessly block van accessible parking and/or curb-cuts, do such inconsiderate things because so far they’ve been lucky: they’ve never had someone close to them confined to a wheelchair, or never had to use a wheelchair themselves. I confess, that’s what it took for me to understand. So I’m writing this long-winded whine today, in the hopes that someone reading it will become more mindful of this issue, without having to learn from first-hand experience how troubling it is when others block accessibility for no reason more momentous then their momentary convenience.
One last word and then I’ll shut up. I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t judge people who park in handicapped spots without a permit, because they might have a handicap other than something obvious like being confined to a wheelchair. Maybe they’ve got a replaced hip or suffer from heart disease or so forth. I understand that many “invisible” handicaps limit people. But here’s something to consider: if you, or someone you love, has a legitimate reason to use a handicapped parking spot, do what my wife and every other handicapped person or their caregiver has done: go to your doctor and get the necessary paperwork completed for you to receive a handicapped parking permit, which will either be on your license plate or displayed on your dashboard. If you don’t bother to get the permit, then you don’t belong in the handicapped parking spot. Period.
Okay, whining rant finished. We’ll return to our regular programming with my next blog post.