Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Handicap Parking

On Sunday, I had to go to Walmart to get something, and it was (as usual on a nice weekend day) crowded. I parked out in Goofy 6, and got walking. As I got up near the very front spots, I watched as a car came flying around the bed and into a handicapped spot. The driver, a teenaged girl, dug around in the glove compartment, pulled out a handicapped tag, and hung it from her mirror. Then she and her friend jumped out of the car, and skipped and ran into the store. It took everything in my power not to hunt them down and punch them in the face. Years ago, I probably would have spoken up and said something to them, but since then, I have learned that there are often unseen handicaps – heart problems, etc. So now I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and seethe silently.

But deep down, I know these girls weren’t handicapped. They were using grandma’s tag so they didn’t have to walk more than 20 feet into the store, and it made me sick. Since it was crowded, even the handicapped spots were at a premium (and since Walmart has a high ratio of them, a clear sign of the of the rampant abuse of handicapped tags), and these girls took one, perhaps forcing someone else who really is handicapped to park out by me in Goofy 6.

This has always bothered me – I have never, and would never, park in a handicapped spot. Years ago when I saw it happen, I got indignant over the principle, the scoffing at the rules, the sense of entitlement. But now it goes deeper. Now, all I can think about is the person that may be hurt by this type of behavior. Because I have been there.

After mr b’s accident (he fell off a 2 story roof and completely shattered his feet), he was in a wheelchair (and then walker, crutches, cane) for quite some time. In the beginning, even after he came home from the nursing home, he couldn’t put any pressure or movement at all on his feet – he couldn’t even ride in a car, since it could bounce his feet around. If he needed to go somewhere, we had to borrow a wheelchair-fitted van from a friend. While this friend was always happy to help us out, he was a relatively new friend, and we didn’t want to take advantage, so we kept it to a minimum, only asking him when there was a doctor’s appointment. Our house was small, and his wheelchair couldn’t fit through doorways, so he was confined to a hospital bed in the breakfast room or the couch. He couldn’t get into the bathroom, so he had to take sponge baths. It was a terrible time for him both physically and emotionally.

So by the time he could finally ride in a car, he was so very ready to get out of the house. You don’t appreciate freedom until you don’t have it. So, I’d get him down the ramp that we built, and he’s struggle into the car, trying not to bump his feet. Then, I’d have to lift the wheelchair into the trunk. And being that it was just temporary, the insurance would only provide us with the giant, heavy kind of chair, so it was a feat to maneuver it into the trunk. Thank god I wasn’t pregnant at the time. Add in getting a 7 year old and an infant corralled at the same time, and I was exhausted.

I had a constant backache from all the lifting, and I was emotionally exhausted, but I tried not to show it, since mr b was already in so much physical and emotional pain himself, the last thing he needed was more guilt. He already suffered such a blow to his dignity, watching helplessly as his wife helped him wash and cleaned his portable toilet and hefted his wheelchair. I certainly didn’t want to add to it. But there were plenty of time when I needed an extra minute or two to wipe away tears before I closed the trunk. It was a hard time for all of us.

But one of the hardest things to deal with during that time was the eye-opening discovery that handicap access was poorly lacking. I can’t tell you how many places we went that didn’t have handicapped access, handicapped restrooms, or handicapped parking. There were restaurants that claimed to have access, so we’d head up the ramp only to discover a three inch threshold to get in the door. So I’d have to head back top the car with a hungry 7 year old, a cranky baby, and a humiliated husband. It was awful.

Little things that you never think twice about became huge obstacle for us. Door thresholds, as I mentioned. Narrow doorways or passages. High curbs. Crowded restaurants. Suddenly our eyes were opened to the plight of the handicapped and it was shocking.

I can remember seeing a show on dateline or 690 minutes some years ago about handicapped access laws and they showed both sides of it. And I recall feeling bad for the business owners who had to shoulder the expense of adding access to their businesses. But after experiencing the other side of it, no more. It’s not just about fairness – that the handicapped should have access to the same things that everyone else is. It’s also about the humiliation and disappointment that goes along with being denied access.

We went on my annual work trip when he was still confined to the chair and that was the most eye-opening experience we had. It was at a resort located in a very rich, expensive little town. And not one – not a single solitary ONE of the shops and/or restaurants were accessible. There was one that claimed it was, and it did have a ramp, but the sidewalks weren’t accessible, and you couldn’t actually get to the ramp. It was awful. I was upset, he was depressed. Awful.

The worst thing we experienced during the trip was when I was in my meeting and he wheeled out to the check-in area and asked if there was a ramp for him to go out on the patio. They said they had a temporary ramp and had an employee put it out for him. He went out, and was wheeling around, checking things out, and then it started to drizzle. He turned around to head back in and discovered that they had taken the ramp back. So he was stuck outside in the rain. They left him stranded outside and it rained. I just so happened to be walking down the hall and I noticed him out there, in his chair, waving frantically to get someone’s attention. Of course no one was around and I couldn’t get the ramp, so I had to push his chair along a gravel path (not easy – the chair just sunk), and hoist him up onto the walkway that led inside. Luckily a housekeeper saw me and helped, but the damage was done. We were both exhausted, upset, and angry. And once again, he was humiliated.

So needless to say, my feelings about people who park in handicapped spots have changed. I now think less about the law-scoffing and more about the effect on the person who needs that spot and now can’t have it. And it makes me mad. And I currently have someone close to me who does this. This person is a health nut. She eats healthy and goes to the gym approximately 7 days a week. She works out for hours at a time. And yet, when it comes to walking an extra few feet at the fucking mall, she becomes a complete asshole and uses a handicapped tag. It makes me sick. You’d think that after seeing what my family went thorough, it would sink in a little, but no. Either her stupidity, or her complete ego-centrism, or her completely overblown sense of entitlement are stronger than her empathy or basic human kindness, I guess. Even mr b – who is still entitled to a tag – doesn’t use his, because he knows there is always someone worse. He knows the feeling of frustration and humiliation. But she doesn’t and it makes me sick.


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The Purple Pinkie said...

You know I got to tell you, we were just discussing this in the salon last week. My husband's family owns a motorcycle dealership and they installed an elevator to make it handicapped accessible. The post office in the same town has NEVER been accessible. There are approximately 20 steps to get in. No ramp. No elevator. It's a freakin government building. That really burns my ass.

jaded said...

That label sums it up nicely. I'm not programmed to abuse the system the way some do. I worry about if I will find a parking place...not how far away it is from the destination.

That suck, what Mr B had to endure during his recovery. I suspect both of you are strong individuals.

Magpie said...

my mother used to confront people who did that. one day, an ordinary looking woman gets out of her van, my mother berated her, and she turned out to have a Severely handicapped child in the back of the car. it was mortifying.

meno said...

I think every person should have to spend two weeks on crutches or in a wheelchair.

Before i spent my 6 weeks on crutches, i would NEVER park in a handicapped space anyway, but now i am much more aware of holding doors and carrying packages for people who are.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see your story on a billboard outside shopping centres.

Though I guess the kind of healthy people who park in disabled spaces wouldn't bother to read it anyway.

Hope Mr B is improving daily

Lisa said...

I like to believe that somehow, somewhere, people like this who abuse the human race in this way will get what's coming to them. You know what goes around comes around...

Susan said...

Great post, Gina, even though I wish it wasn't true!

I've never parked in a handicap spot for the same reasons you express -- and maybe a little superstition, too. (But that's not really the reason!)

I've seen people at our daycare pull up in the handicap spots and get out/get in with perfectly capable kids -- at least as far as I can tell. One day, though, when I was steaming about it I saw a mom carrying her 9 year old, severly autistic son out. That put it right back into perspective.

My father now needs to use the handicap spots, too, and sometimes he jokes about getting the best parking in town. But, really, what consolation is that when you can barely walk and are in so much pain?

Anyway, people can be so ignorant and self-centered. I'm sorry to hear about what your family went through.

He Said said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
He Said said...

I knew a guy in high school who kept extra (old age red flag here) oil CANS in his car. He would pop a hole in it with a can opener and leave them on top of the car upside down.

Major asshole he was, but hey, maybe you could find a case or two on ebay and keep em in your car for special occasions.

Urban Mom said...

I was going to suggest something similar to He Said, but perhaps to empty a syrupy can of Coke all over the windshield and hood of the car.