My friend and I went to the supermarket last Saturday. While attempting to maneuver our van through the crowded lot, we noticed that all nine disabled spots were taken. Since we live in a relatively small town, I know there’s a very sparse wheelchair population. During my 40 years of living here, I wheel past one of my comrades maybe thrice per annum. So, either a great influx of wheelchair users decided to make the trek just to buy produce from our supermarket, or there was a revolutionary new brand of wheelchair that was camouflaged so well that the user looked ambulatory.
Imagine for a moment if such a chair really did exist! No more putting up with awkward stares. No more having to explain how you “landed” in a wheelchair to every compassionate soul you met. Last, but not least, no more having to be called “courageous” or “brave” twice a day. Logically, however, I knew why the spaces were full. Human nature was at fault.
Unfortunately, left to their own devices, most people will take advantage of a situation without regard for anyone else’s well-being.
Yes, I’m afraid that most ambulatory people don’t think twice about parking in a disabled spot. They don’t see the harm in parking there, just for a minute, to grab a quart of milk. Some go a step further. They hang an illegally obtained or out of date disabled parking placard from their rear view mirror. They don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Compounding this sentiment is law enforcement’s seemingly lax attitude toward writing tickets for these violations. Tens of thousands of dollars in city revenue are lost per annum because of this oversight. Some people even have the audacity to argue that scooting in a wheelchair is easier than walking.
Our next best option was to find two empty parking spaces and use their combined width so my ramp could fully extend and provide enough room for the wheelchair to exit the van. Unfortunately, there were only a handful of single spaces available. Given no other options, my friend and I were forced to employ a risky alternative.
We parked halfway into a space so we could let the ramp extend and clear the back of the next car. A very risky proposition to say the least! With half of our van sticking out in traffic, I went down the ramp as quickly as possible. Most of the other drivers understood our predicament and carefully drove around. Suddenly, a car sped into our aisle and instead of slowing down, the driver dangerously maneuvered around us. As he hurried by, he honked his horn.
After I caught my breath, his utter stupidity made me chuckle. For some reason this moron thought that we were at fault because his speeding almost caused him to kill me. However, we were not out of the woods yet. We still had to walk behind a line of parked cars to reach the store.
There’s a trick that you learn when you’re in a wheelchair and you’re forced to wheel behind parked cars. You might think that I just can wheel behind them without a care in world. This, however, would be a tragic assumption. You see, when a driver looks in his rear view mirror, while backing up, typically he’s looking for an upright pedestrian. The problem is that I’m significantly lower than your average adult pedestrian.
A lot of drivers can’t see me either because I’m too low or they only do a cursory glance behind them. So, the onus falls to me to make sure that a car isn’t about to back out. The first trick that I learned was to listen for engine noise at each car I was about to pass. This worked for awhile but, then I found that some newer cars were very quiet. Next, I began studying taillights to determine if a car was on the move. It seemed foolproof! Before a car backs out, its taillights light up. Again, this strategy worked until my wheelchair was tapped by a fender.
While wheeling in another lot one day, I carefully examined each car. As I was passing the back fender of an old VW bug, it backed into me! Fortunately, my chair took the brunt of the impact and still sports a scratch from the encounter. The young man driving the bug, to his credit, sprinted from his vehicle to see if I was okay. He had an absolutely horrified look on his face. After assuring him that I was fine, he apologized profusely until I told him that his family wouldn’t lose their home.
These days I employ my third, and hopefully last, strategy. I look to see if there’s anyone sitting in the driver’s seat.
Like everyone else, sometimes the minutia of my own life obscures the bigger picture. When we fall into the pattern of disregarding the needs of other people, we’re inviting them to reciprocate in kind. Disabled parking spaces exist so that people with physical challenges can safely transfer from their vehicle to a place of business. Society works best when people try to be compassionate and mindful of one another.