Vigilante Katy

So I know I’ve told you guys about my recent obsession with handicap parking spaces.

I’d like to say that there’s been some improvement in this area, but that would be a lie. If anything, I’ve become more aggravated by the whole thing. Everywhere I look, I see people parking in loading zones, blocking ramps with their cars, or non-vans using van spots when there are plenty of other spots available.

So the other day when I saw that someone had parked their SUV in such a way as to completely block the graded entrance to the local gas station, I snapped. I whipped out my cell phone and took a picture. Please don’t ask me what I thought I was going to do with that picture–I had no idea–but I felt better having documented the offense.

A few days later I met bicycle man, and that’s when things started rolling down hill in the wacko department. You see, Charlie’s Feldenkrais lady works in the French Quarter. If you’ve never been to New Orleans, the French Quarter is like an old European city with narrow street and not nearly enough parking. It was built, ya know, pre-car. Around the corner from the Feldenkrais studio are the only two handicap spots in the area.

With only two spots, you can imagine it’s hard to get a chance to actually park in them. Well, last Friday I couldn’t find a place to park anywhere. I didn’t have money for the garage, there were several broken meters, and since it was a gorgeous day in the middle of tourist season, there were people everywhere.

So I dropped Charlie off and proceeded to circle around looking for a place. That’s when bicycle man appeared. He biked up to the his van that was legally parked in a handicap spot. He got off the bike, folded it up, and then loaded it into the back of his van. Then he drove off.

I was incredulous. I mean, he had a handicap license plate, but was this man actually handicapped? He had the strength and vitality to both ride a bicycle and load it into his van. I figured it was just one of those things. It wasn’t

The next week the very same van was parked there again. This time I found a spot, but rather than going into Charlie’s appointment, I hung around waiting to see if bicycle man would appear–and  he did. Again he rode his bike, folded and loaded it himself. I did it again with the camera–took a couple of pictures. Again, not knowing why, but feeling better for documenting the event.

I was recounting this story at lunch later, and my Dad said, “well, he still might have been disabled.”

And I mean, he’s right. The man could have had a prosthetic leg or something, but it got be wondering about the bigger issue–what do we, as a society, think of as disabled, and is that reflected in our current policies regarding handicap parking spaces? For me, it’s directly related to walking distance–how far am I going to have to haul Charlie and is it worth it? If we’re taking the chair it’s less of an issue, but for places like the supermarket or Target, it’s nice to be able to park and then use a cart when we get inside.

But my definition isn’t the same as everyone else’s–mine is colored by my own experience. We all define it differently. A person who breaks their ankle is considered disabled in Louisiana and gets a one-year pass. I broke my ankle when I was thirteen and never would have considered myself disabled. There’s a boy at Charlie’s school with a broken leg and he’s also got a one year pass.

When I find myself, yet again, parking in a regular spot. Or worse yet, when I see an elderly person limping painfully across a parking lot. I think that if we can’t find accessible parking for Charlie who is the quintessential definition of disabled, then who is getting the spots? I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen someone with a wheelchair using a handicap spot. Actually, I think I’ve seen it once.

So what do you guys think? Are there just too many disabled people and not enough spots? Do we need more spots? Are we overly-generous with our definition of the word? Do you think there’s a lot of tag abuse? I’d love to know your thoughts. . .

Boy in wheelchair looking off into distance

This was gonna be a great shot--and then he spotted the bus.

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  1. Good question. There are lots of very valid reasons to have a handicap tag/placard. I can see how it is possible to become frustrated with those that seem to not “get it”. I wonder if there should be a public service announcement that is run on television pointing out why/why not to use the spot(s), if more people would get it and be more considerate? Is there a program in your state with the Department of Motor Vehicles that you can show those pictures to, in order to verify the person has a legitimate use of the space?

    And that picture of Charlie is great! I love seeing him in his own action shots…the anticipation of the bus!

  2. I think it’s a bit of all of those. I have a heart and muscle condition. I don’t use a parking pass, but some of my friends with the same disorder do. While they certainly appear able-bodied, it can be too painful to walk far, or they can become too out of breath. So, I try not to judge, especially as I’ve been called out for using the elevator and the like. I do think though, that the definition is too broad. A YEAR for breaking your leg? Really? I mean a temp tag for at the beginning, yah, but does it really take that long to be able to handle a parking lot? (If it does, please correct me.) More spots would always be great, but I think we need more parking in some places overall. I remember my old OB’s office had an entire floor of handicap spots that never had a car in them, but the other 3 floors would be full. I suppose the # of parking spots then should depend on the population. If I were you, I’d take the photos where there is clear misuse to the police. I’ve decided I’m calling next time I see a car parked in a handicap spot without tags.

    • The mall where we go to lunch every Friday has NO PARKING. None. Forget handicapped–you’re lucky if you get a spot at all!

  3. I hate to say it but until reading your posts I’ve never really thought about it.

    But if you want to know what makes someone disabled under social security, i’m your girl.

    • Interesting question–I wonder if disabled under social security is the same as disabled for parking.

      • No, each program can make it’s own definition of disability which is why this is so confusing. I’l through out some examples.

        IDEA (schools) you get services if your disability impacts your education

        BCMH (buearu for children with medical handicaps) is diagnosis driven, if yo don’t have the right diagnosis, you don’t get services. L doesn’t get services because her diagnosis aren’t right.

        Insurance- same thing. I am always writing my state senators regarding the Autism pardoy insurance act.

        VA (veterans) – percentage of disability

        Social security (I’m only giving the adult criteria)- a medical determinable imapirment that prevents you from engagin in substanial gainful activity for 12 consecutive months or iends in death.

        And that is why people are so confused.


  4. MelissaInk Designs says:

    My college campus was vigilant about TOWING people who parked in handicap spots. Personally, I was never towed, but I know people who were. I can’t imagine parking or blocking a handicap spot. That said, I really appreciate the courtesy parking some places offer – like “Reserved for Expectant Mothers” or “Reserved for Mothers with Small Children.” I wonder if there’s some way to stagger handicap parking – like “Wheelchair-Dependent Disabled” and “Temporarily Impaired” and “Reserved for Senior Citizen.” I don’t how well people would respect them, but it might make some people think twice.

    Plenty of people use their handicap license plates when the handicap person is not in the car. You’ve addressed this before. It sort of seems legal, but it’s not (but I don’t think that’s well publicized). Maybe you could print out the “rules” and highlight that section and leave it on cars when you see someone is blocking a space or suspect the person may not be using the spot legally. You don’t want to have a face-to-face argument about “who is more disabled,” but – again – maybe it’ll get a couple people to think twice and be more productive than snapping pictures that you don’t know what you’ll do with :)

    • I love that consideration parking too, Melissa. When I went to IKEA in Dallas they had “family parking” and the spots were relatively close but also very big, which is good when you’re loading and unloading small people.

      My friend Amie had little cards that she stuck on people’s windshields when they violated the rules.

      • Those cards were amazing! I know they made no difference to the people parking, but they sure made me feel better after unloading Cliff from the back of a busy parking lot because someone parked across the van parking spots.

    • theblondeview says:

      In my state, IL, it IS illegal to use disability parking even with the proper plates/placard if the person with the disability to whom the plates/placard is not either entering or exiting the vehicle or both while vehicle is parked in a disability designated parking spot.

      Here also, some disability parking spots are noted “van access” but these are not limited to van use only and are sometimes the only type of disability parking spots made available in many parking lots. I have personally only come across one facility that designates “RAMP VAN ACESS ONLY” on some of their disability parking and then also has standard disability parking as well. In my son’s situation, we are currently not using a wheelchair at this time and therefore not using a ramp. My son has many medical disabilities, including physical conditions that qualify him for disability parking.
      We do now use a stroller and are unloading medical equipment and oxygen, etc from a side van door that is neither safe nor is there room enough to be parked in a standard parking spot, even if it is marked “disability parking”.
      It is confusing, with every state making it’s own rules and apparently some facilities being able to make further distinctions as well. However, confusion is NOT an excuse for flat out abuse of disability parking.

  5. MelissaInk Designs says:

    *I also want to clarify that the reason I was never towed is because I NEVER parked in a handicap spot. My mama raised me right!

  6. I just saw a car pull up in front of a store, and they were blocking traffic…..all while the disabled person stayed in the car! (She had oxygen on! I could tell it must be her) and the guy ran and did something real quick. It just floors me how rude people are!

    I think they are WAY to generous with the placards!

    And, seriously! The dude with the bike does NOT need a disabled spot if he can ride a stinkin’ bike and lift it in and out of a van! COME ON! Now, if he has a condition where he cannot walk a far distance…then he should use the spot….but to go ride his bike…..he’s just rude!

    • You know, Amy, this comment makes me want to delete my entire post because you’ve nailed the whole issue in two paragraphs–it’s about politeness. If everyone just used the placards when they NEEDED them, and not just because they HAVE them, that would probably eliminated a lot of the problems that come with handicap placards. Thank you for this insightful comment.

      • Couldn’t that statement be boiled down to LIFE ITSELF? If people just treated everybody the way they were supposed to and only used what they needed and gave away the rest…my oh my what a wonderful world this would be.

        Somebody pass me the bong.


  7. Some countries (Australia?) have graded parking for different needs. In South Africa we actually do have disabled parking in most urban areas. And in bigger shopping centers there may even be spaces for the elderly or mothers with small kids. Not really sure if special parking is adequate – maybe two or three bays per shop. I often see the parking spaces barred to keep people who aren’t disabled from using them. Problem is, if you legitimately need to use such a spot you’d have to attract the attention of somebody like a security guard to open it for you. Could be quite a mission…

    • Interesting. I guess every country does it a little bit differently. I imagine it would be quite difficult to find someone to open a spot–not sure I would bother.

  8. Honestly?

    I think we are WAY too free and easily handing out the sticker, if you ask me. People abuse the goverment and its systems, plain and simple. And it hurts those who REALLY need the help.

    It’s not a popular or poticically correct opinion, but it is my opinion.

    I need to design you a name for your new ‘persona’ as well as a costume. Handicap-in-their-Ass Woman? No…too harsh. Disability Dame? Too sexist maybe. Gimme time, I’ll think of something. The costume depends on which way you wanna go.

    There’s certainly a more Punisher-essque route, grounded in realism, which I kind of dig, but very dark, and you’ll definitely scare the shit out of the old people, but the kids also. But if I go too colorful, well, you end up looking like Barney or something and who needs that?

    I’m open to suggestions of course. 😛

  9. I’m relatively new to the world of handicap parking. 3 months ago I started working with a 24 year old girl with muscular dystrophy, which has taken every single ability from her, except for her ability to speak (she is basically a quadrapalegic).

    We go on many outings where I drive her big-a$$ wheelchair van. Parking it has been a new adventure for me.

    As we pulled into a grocery store last week, the person who was parked in the handicap spot across from us not only didn’t have a handicap of any kind, but didn’t even have a permit. Sure there were plenty of handicap spots left, but it still made me mad.

    Once we had to park downtown (parallel parking that van is not so fun). We finally found a spot and I pulled up really far ahead in the spot so we could pull down her ramp at the back to load/unload. By the time we had come back another vehicle decided to squeeze itself between the van and the car behind us because I had left space to load/unload, but because the car parked there I wasn’t able to get the ramp down. The van is clearly marked in MANY places as a wheelchair van. That really ticked me off.

    Handicap parking spots are like a war zone.

    Here’s a question for you: sometimes we go to run errands (i.e. stop at a drug store) and she sends me in alone because it would take more time to unload her and load her back up than it would for me to just run in and get what she needs. I still tend to park in the handicap spot because I want to leave her alone for as little time as possible considering she can’t do anything for herself, but yet I’m personally very capable of walking across a parking lot (I’m 21 and athletic!!!). Is this acceptable? There is usually an abundance of spots anyways. Just curious about your thoughts on that, because I have definately second guessed myself!

    • War zone is right. Even though I get aggravated, at least we still have options. An adult with disabilities has far fewer.

      As far as using the spot goes, I try to go with my gut instinct. Do I feel OK about it? Does this feel like a good use of the spot? I really think that’s the best way to go. Also, I tend to cut myself some slack if there are many spots available. Situational ethics I guess.

  10. Did you check the expiration date on the man’s handicapped sticker? Some are given out for a limited time period (after surgery or for a broken leg perhaps), but I wonder how many people keep using them.

    On another note, I featured the posf you wrote for Friendship Circle about “inchstones” on my blog today. The idea will be an encouragement to many parents. Thanks for sharing it.

    Jolene Philo

  11. I tend to be one of those that believes I shouldn’t question. The person getting out of that car may have a severe form of epilepsy and may need to park close. It may be a heart condition, or something else. I agree some people take advantage, but I am a bit naive with the world. I choose to think people are good at heart……..for the most part.

  12. You know – I sometimes feel guilty in parking in them, when I have Cici, because I AM able-bodied, AND she is only 3 years old and 27 pounds, and because she’s in a spica cast, she’s in a regular jogging stroller because her regular adapted stroller/wheelchair doesn’t work with a spica cast. And because she’s small still, we sometimes use the stroller anyway – it’s easier, lighter, and it’s more comfortable for her. So, it looks like we just have a ‘baby’ – but we still have bags and bags of equipment to carry with us whenever she goes anywhere. A full-fledged wheelchair adapted van is in our future though, and I’ll probably feel less guilty then. And even though I have a placard and a disabled kiddo (and we NEVER use it unless she is with us), if I take a spot from a van who needs it I feel TERRIBLE. Just awful. However, when I see people at my sons school park in them and “run in” or something, while I park in the lot or down the street, I kind of get pissy.

    • Jenny: I go back and forth on this one two. I usually try not to use a spot if we’re using the stroller because like you, I feel guilty. We don’t have oodles of equipment, though. Just one heavy preschooler with zero walking ability. Sometimes, though, you can’t predict things. Like today, parked at Penneys, in a handicap spot because I was going to carry him in and use a cart. Well, they were out of carts, so back to the car we went to get the stroller–his chair was at home. I did feel guilty then, but the idea of moving the car made me want to die. Also, there were two other spots still open.

  13. I think they give the tags out too freely. Why would a person with a broken leg need a pass for a whole year? Rarely does it take a person that long to truly heal from a broken leg. SIx months seems a lot for something like that, but a bit more acceptable. If they have ongoing problems with the leg, then they should have to get another pass as needed.

    I am feeling this like you a lot lately, especially as the busy shopping season draws near. I, too, nearly went vigilante yesterday when I couldn’t even find a free spot for our van at all at therapy. Then, I saw people coming out of the clinic with great ability to walk, taking up my loading zone. Emma, like Charlie, is disabled by the definition. We use a wheelchair to get around outside the house. She has SQCP, and she is too big to carry now, at age 7. So, I guess I kind of see those wide spots as accessible for vans and wheelchairs. I get that other people with other types of disabilites may need to be closer to stores, clinics, etc. But, it seems like their could be different kinds of spots reserved for those folks in a different way. I mean the handicapped icon is actually a simple drawing indicating a person in a wheelchair. Why couldn’t the other spots just say something else or have a different symbol?

    I know I get very angry and hurt and frustrated about this around this time of year, as well as on days when it rains heavily or is extremely hot or extremely cold. It hurts to see someone less disabled than Emma walking from one of those spots when we are drenched and Emma is wet and cold. Strangely, the more able-bodied person never looks like he/she feels any guilt either.

    Like you, I rarely see them used by people in wheelchairs. I rarely see people with walkers using them. But, then again, no one is quite as disabled as we seem to be anyway. So, I guess I am never going to win at this thinking.

    • We don’t even attempt to use the chair when it’s raining–I don’t know what we’ll do when Charlie’s older and I don’t have a choice. Probably stay home. I know one family here locally and that’s how it goes–they don’t go anywhere when it’s raining.

      Apparently other countries have different types of parking–I wonder how it works in practice.

  14. I guess we’re pretty lucky because I haven’t seen anyone abuse a HP space for years. We live in Canada’s Capital and people are generally polite…as a whole. We have disability spaces, family spaces, pregnancy spaces, moms spaces and even hybrid spaces now. The only people I see who judge (glaring and staring) others who use and likely need the spot are the elderly…they’re a feisty (and sometimes grumpy) bunch.

  15. I could get long winded here, but I’ll try to be brief. We have a placard and no wheelchair. We get lots of grief over this from people who think we have no right to park in HC spots. Imagine seeing an able bodied woman pull up in a sedan and place her seemingly able bodied toddler in a cart or stroller. What no wheelchair!?!?! Look closely, I am also placing a suction machine, emergency bag and possibly O2 in that cart too. So yes, there are many definitions of disabled. We qualify for a placard because lugging medical equipment across a parking lot ain’t easy.

    On a side note: If you follow @DontParkThere on Twitter they will gladly take your pics and put them online to shame the drivers for parking illegally.

    • Janis–you could have my spot. Totally. I’ve seen all of Austin’s gear.

      I would guess that the vast majority of people who are “disabled” aren’t in wheelchairs–I might be wrong, but I feel like this wheelchair club is pretty small.

  16. The only times I have used them is driving my grandmothers around. I usually see plenty open HP spots we live in an rural area where parking just isn’t that crowded usually. I do think the comment about everyone using common courtesy is very relevant, however I can’t help wonder if what you really need is more parking reserved for HP use.

  17. Sounds like people with handicaps are just as capable as being selfish and self-centred as those without handicaps. Whoda thunk it? ;+)

    I had a handicap parking pass when for about a year before I had hip replacement surgery. I didn’t need the extra space (only crutches or a cane) but really needed the short walk to the door. A one-hour excursion would be the central effort of my entire day.

    I did find myself frustrated with handicap spots being taken by people with NO handicap pass – even one memorable time at the RCMP station (by a police car).

    • Yes. I almost feel like there should be different spots–ones with tons of room and ramp access and others that offer short distance.

      And yes, I think we’re all capable of being selfish and self-center–the secret is to move past your feelings of entitlement, although that’s easier said than done.

  18. In Oregon, some handicapped spots are marked for “vans.” Anyone with a placard can legally park there, though, whether or not they have a wheelchair van. Newer large parking lots are also now required to have designated “wheelchair user” spaces, and users of these spaces must have a designated wheelchair placard — not just a regular handicapped placard. This seems like a good idea, but I think there are still some issues, and we’ll see how it plays out. Personally, I’m never sure where to park when I see these — Phia has the wheelchair placard, but we don’t yet have a wheelchair van, and I would hate to displace someone who absolutely needed that space. On the other hand, I don’t want to displace someone who really needs a “regular” handicapped space, when we could have parked in the wheelchair space. Some places don’t have enough handicapped spots… just this morning, all the spots were filled at our local boys & girls club, and I saw several people inside besides my daughter in wheelchairs, so I imagine all the cars were justified being in those spots. There is obviously not an easy answer to this issue.

  19. Hi Katy. I get pretty vigilante about the HC spots too, especially when there are limited spots available. Eden uses her power chair when we are out and about, so for us, it’s not so much for distance as it is for ACCESS to the darn RAMPS! This is why we need separate spots for wheelchair users versus elderly people or those who really just need to park close to the entrance. It is particularly tricky with the power chair. At times, we can’t just decide to park in a regular spot because it would be dangerous for her to be driving through an entire busy parking lot to get to the ramps. I have heart palpitations about this.

    And as far as people abusing the system…I don’t see why we feel the need to be so PC about it. The fact that people abuse this system is COMPLETELY OBVIOUS! I see it all the time. My current annoyance is the parents/grandparents who park in the HC spots while waiting for their kids to get out of school . Even when they DO have a tag, 9 times out of 10 the disabled person never leaves the car and the kid just comes running out and hops in. I get there and there is no where to park where I can get E’s wheelchair to the car safely.

    A couple of weeks ago I confronted someone about this for the first time. She made a couple of lame excuses at first, but at the end of our conversation she said, “I truly apologize and I am glad that you said something. This is something that I will remember forever, and I will never do it again.” I consider that a success!

    I also have an issue with people who use the handicap bathroom stall when they don’t really need it! I can’t stand it when I am at a restaurant and Eden needs to use the potty, and I get in there and there are 10 stalls and only 1 person in the bathroom and that 1 person is in the HC stall!!!! Then Eden has to wait…and trust me that is difficult for a newly potty-trained little girl with CP…so that we can use the bigger stall. We need it so her chair will fit, as well as for the bars, so she can hold on and stand while I help her with her pants. Oh, and don’t forget the people who use that stall so they can CHANGE clothes! Or, one time at the pool, so they could change their whole FAMILIES clothes!

    I am very strict with myself in terms of NEVER using a HC spot when Eden is not with me (if we are not using her chair I sometimes choose not to use them as well), and NEVER using a handicapped bathroom stall as well. In both cases, I would wait for a regular spot to open up. Sometimes, just because I can, I park really, really far out (rather than looking for a closer spot) and take some time to get a little exercise and really appreciate that I have the abilities that I do.

    Of course, it took having a child with a disability to really make us aware of these issues. For most people it isn’t even on their radar and they just do what is best for them. It takes people like us to bring it to the awareness of others. So good job! Keep it up!

  20. Billie, you say it better than anyone here. I see that situation with the parent/grandparents at school as well. Lately we’ve been walking to and from school and I tell you what, it’s better for my blood pressure.

    The ramps are a huge issue. Huge. Sometimes even if the spots are available, the ramps are blocked by waiting people, illegal parkers, etc.

    Like you said, all we can do is keep making this point and hopefully more and more people will pay attention.

  21. Maybe it’s too late to add my cent but oh, well. I have a friend who has a child with disabilities. My friend’s daughter walks but still benefits from HC parking. The placard is displayed in the front window. I was caught a little off guard, however, when on an outing WITHOUT her handicapped child, my friend pulled into a HC parking spot to go into a store. I think she sensed my surprise because she almost defensively explained to me that because she had a child with disabilities, her time was more important and parking closer to the door meant she could get home that much faster to her daughter. Wow. We then went into the store and leisurely strolled around because we were so pressed to get home to our disabled children.

    I suppose there has to be one in every bunch….Yes, I really do like this woman.

    • I think this where we run into problems. Instead of seeing a handicap pass as a tool to improve the lives of our children, we see it as a reward or compensation for having a disabled loved one. I’m with Billie, we should be rejoicing in our mobility because no one knows better than we do how precious it is.

  22. Good Question.

    From my experience and what I have seen I will go with tag abuse. I’m not even completely sure how some folks get this tag who I can definitely tell you have no disability. I have also known cases of people putting the tag in different cars. May even be a whole black market for tags, okay maybe Im going far; but its possible.

  23. I think there is a lot of tag abuse going around.

    However you raised a very interesting point… about what is disabled to who…. I know a woman over here who is considered disabled…physically disabled… to look at her you would be hard press to find what it is that makes her disabled (or handicapped may be the better word) But on closer inspection you would notice that She was born with only three whole fingers and maybe two half fingers. My niece has the same condition and I would never have considered her disabled but she should be considered as such because she also has no toes! The first woman’s disability doesn’t hold her back but it still makes her have to adapt and find ways around the lack of fingers.

    So I guess as someone commented earlier it all boils down to consideration and thoughtfulness for others when these spots are being used

  24. My daughter has a friend with severe scoliosis. He had back surgery this summer and has a placard. You would not know to look at this young man that he has a disability, and he has always been very active and althletic. I am sure that the day will come when he is again active and athletic, but he is currently restricted in how much he is allowed to walk and how much he can carry. I am sure he would rather not have to park in a handicapped spot, but the reality is he needs to park there, at least for now. He is an University student and needs to be able to access his vehicle frequently, too, as he cannot carry a backpack or any other type of school bag. Maybe bicycle man is still rehabbing from some sort of surgery. If he isn’t, then shame on him! I do hate to see people park in those few spaces who have no need of them.