Sunday, May 17, 2015

Disabled Parking Spaces

Disabled parking spaces close to the entrance are so appealing, especially if one is in a hurry.  …”I’m just going to be a minute.”  When looking for a space, I often say to myself - "it’s amazing what the disabled can drive.”  That's because of the variety of vehicles found in disabled parking spaces.  My favorites are the amazing monster trucks and sports cars – vehicles which a disabled person typically cannot drive or even get into or out of.  Yet, a good many of these suspect vehicles have the required disabled parking placard.  Still others do not.  Occasionally I am curious to see who gets out of such a vehicle.  While it is true that many bonafide disabilities are not visually obvious, it is also true that parking spaces are used by people with no qualifying disability and no passenger with them who does.

I have always wondered why people use the disabled spaces when they don’t need them.  Over the years, I have heard a lot of unsolicited reasons from offenders after they realize I saw them.  Most commonly I hear “I was just going to be a minute,” “I never do this usually,” “I was in a hurry,” and “my family member is disabled but is not with me.”  Some don’t seem to notice or care.  I am not the parking police and I don’t ask for an explanation so if someone feels guilty, I can only assume they have something to feel guilty about.  I don’t bail them out – I just smile politely.

Disabled parking spaces, by law, must be close to the entrance.  This is important for wheelchair users because there is some danger when going between long rows of parked vehicles (being so short) that someone backing out their car won’t see us.  Trucks and higher vehicles definitely have a problem seeing a wheelchair or small child behind them.  I have to remain extremely vigilant.  I am very focused as I watch for backup lights and listen for vehicles starting their engines.   

Disabled spaces are also typically wider than an ordinary parking place.  For vans with a side lift, this wideness is necessary (not optional) in order to lower the lift.  Wider spots make it possible to maneuver a wheelchair in between cars to load groceries or retrieve something from the side of the vehicle.  Regular-size spots do not have enough room.  Many times, the door won't even open without touching the adjacent car.  In addition, there is always the risk of scratching the adjacent vehicle with a grocery cart or wheelchair.  

Disabled parking placards are intended for disabled drivers or drivers in any vehicle when transporting a disabled person.  Qualifying disabilities generally include diseases which substantially impair or interfere with mobility (e.g. respiratory, cardiac, orthopedic, neurologic, etc.), and those resulting in inability to move without the aid of an assistive device (wheelchair, braces, artificial limbs, walkers, canes, crutches, etc.). 

A qualifying disability must be determined and certified by a medical provider (may be waived for amputees).  This signed certification must be presented to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Placards are given a unique number which identifies the disabled person.  They must be used by the disabled person only, either as the driver or as the passenger.  They must be renewed periodically (varies by state) and surrendered upon the individual’s death.  Unfortunately, however, it is not uncommon for these placards to be used by others long after the disabled person has died.

It is not difficult or expensive to get a placard.  Anyone who thinks they need one should see their physician and request one because it is illegal in many, if not all, states to use someone else’s placard or to lend it to another.  Temporary placards are available in the event that you are lucky enough to have just a temporary disability.  Violators can be fined, have their placard revoked, or not qualify for renewal. 

Unfortunately, we all know that disabled parking rules are hardly ever enforced which makes them extremely dependent on the honor system.  A good rule of thumb when tempted to park in a disabled space is to ask yourself if you would trade the minor benefit of parking close to an entrance for a qualifying disability (your choice).

Disabled parking spaces are not simply a convenience for those who need them.  So… if you don’t honestly need a space, don’t use one.  At least half of the time when I go out, the disabled spots are full.  It would be comforting to know that every space is legitimately occupied.

Note:  Placard and parking rules may vary slightly from state to state.  Check with your state for specific details.