Every summer for the past five years, I have taken my kids to swim lessons at a local outdoor pool. The main parking lot is at the bottom of a steep, long hill, with the pool and locker rooms at the top of the hill. Signs clearly indicate that the only cars allowed up the hill are those needing one of three handicapped parking spots up there. Because I have a handicapped tag (and walking up and down that hill, carting swim gear and lawn chairs, would be very difficult), I drive up to the handicapped spaces. There are always two barricades at the bottom of the hill. For the past five years of pool visits, about half the time, I have found the barricades spaced so that I or other drivers with handicapped tags can drive between then. The other half of the time, the barricades are too close together and I have to get out of the car to move them—something I can do but that a driver with less mobility cannot. Knowing that the barricades are there to discourage other parents from driving to the top of the hill to drop their kids off just because it’s easier and more convenient, I have put up with this occasional moving of the barricades, although I know it’s not an acceptable practice.
Yesterday, I arrived at the pool to find that not only were the barricades pushed close together, but a large metal picnic table sat in the middle of the road leading up the hill. I moved the barricades. I drove around the picnic table (partially onto the grass). I explained to the young woman at the front entrance that it is not legal to restrict access to handicapped spaces. I thanked the two young women who came out and moved the picnic table. Later, as I packed my kids up to go home, I watched several drivers whose cars did not have handicapped tags drive up and park in the handicapped spaces to unload their kids. Then I went home and called the local police to suggest they go have a talk with the pool staff about the need to discourage illegal use of handicapped spaces without blocking access to those with a legitimate tag.
All of this inspired me to re-run one of my most popular posts from last year, originally published on February 21, 2012. Please share this far and wide if you are so moved. There is no excuse for parking in a handicapped spot without a tag. None. Zip. Zilch.
Several years ago, I drove my daughter Leah to school one icy morning. Because slippery, icy sidewalks are a danger to people like us with fragile bones, I pulled into the parking lot closest to the school entrance, where there are two handicapped spaces. Both spaces were full.
This is not an unusual occurrence. One spot is nearly always taken by a teacher who has a permit, leaving only one other spot for anyone visiting the school who also has a permit.
But this morning, the car in the second space did not have a permit. Anywhere. I looked, long and hard. Nope. No permit.
Because I really needed to park as close to the school as possible given the ice, I squeezed my car into the lined area between the two spaces. (The school has given me permission to park anywhere, including in the principal’s designated space or on the grass, if the handicapped spots are all full.) Leah went inside. And I sat there, waiting.
Along came a mom, Starbucks in hand. I got out of my car and said in the most friendly voice I could muster, “Excuse me. But I noticed you don’t have a handicapped permit on your car. I really needed to use one of these spaces this morning for my daughter, who has a physical disability.”
She mumbled something about how “My kid has something too” and “I left my permit at home.”
No, she didn’t leave it at home. She didn’t have one. I’ve gotten to know the other families, parents, and teachers at our school who have legitimate tags. This mom is not one of them. And in the years since this incident, I have never seen her park there again. I think she parked there because it was a cold, unpleasant morning and she didn’t want her or her child to have to walk far. And like most people who park illegally in handicapped spaces, she probably justified it with one of these common excuses.
I’m guessing that was this mom’s reasoning. But what, pray tell, are those of us with a legitimate tag supposed to do when we show up and all the spaces are full? Intuit that you’ll be back in just a few minutes? And then cheerfully cool our heels, knowing that we’ll eventually be able to park if we’re just patient? Regardless of whether, perhaps, we might need to be somewhere at a certain time?
2. “I’ll only be a minute, and I’m staying in my car, so I can move if someone comes along who needs the space.”
And how will you know that someone needs the space? Will that person (again, cheerfully) get out of his/her car, come knock on your window, and say, “Excuse me. Would you mind moving? I need this space.” Oh, wait. These spaces are for people with physical impairments. So getting out of the car might actually be something of an ordeal, something they might like to do only once. Say, after they park in a designated handicapped space.
3. “I/my family member hurt my/his/her knee/back/foot.”
Handicapped spaces are not for people with temporary injuries. If you have an injury that is more than temporary but not lifelong, you may be able to secure a limited-time permit, depending on your state laws. But you still need to go through the application process to do that. You can’t just decide on your own that you have a legitimate need for a handicapped space.
I know it can be hard and painful to walk long distances with an injury. Believe me, I know. But if your injury is temporary, you need to suck it up and deal. Ask someone to drive you and drop you at the door. Consider getting a cane or crutch to help you get safely from point A to point B. Make an appointment to talk to a doctor about pain management. Just don’t park in a space that is legally not yours to park in.
4. “I’m driving my elderly aunt/grandfather/neighbor around for the day.”
That’s very nice of you. Next time you do someone this kind of favor, ask if they have a handicapped parking permit and if they do, suggest they bring it with them. You can temporarily put it on/in your own car. If they have a handicapped-designated license plate on their car, ask if they would like you to drive their car instead of yours to get the parking benefit.
If they don’t have a permit, or are unable or unwilling to bring theirs along, then drop them off at the door before parking the car.
5. “My dad/grandma/elderly uncle died and I inherited his/her car, with a handicapped permit.”
OK. So I have no way of knowing, when I see a car with a legitimate handicapped tag, if that tag was procured for the person who is actually using it on this particular day. And I know better than to question someone’s use of a handicapped tag based on whether they “look” disabled. (Yeah. That? Don’t ever do that. You really can’t know someone’s reasons for having the tag at a glance. A friend whose child has my bone disorder once had a passerby yell at her for parking in a handicapped spot. I hope that passerby felt appropriately ashamed when she saw my friend pull her daughter’s wheelchair out of the trunk.)
But if you’re taking spaces away from people with wheelchairs and walkers and terribly arthritic knees just because you can, just because you happen to have a tag that you inherited from someone, but you don’t actually have any reason for needing such a tag?
Then you’re just a jerk.
Bottom line: If you don’t have a valid handicapped parking permit in or on your car—a permit that was legitimately issued to you or someone who is riding in your car—then don’t park in a handicapped space.