One of my many Facebook friends recently tagged me in the following mini-rant:
I have watched SO many people abuse the use of their Handicap hang-tag/Placard the past month, as well as this weekend. If you use your handicap placard when a handicapped individual is NOT in the car with you THIS IS WRONG and so unfair to the disabled.
I'm encouraged because this has been a hot button issue in the disability community, since the creation of accessible parking spots. There is a lot of abuse, but there are many misconceptions. My friend is not alone in believing that in order to qualify for a placard; you have to have a visible need. Many disabilities are invisible and if you look at the NCDOT guidelines, they clearly state the following:
North Carolina law provides for parking assistance to vehicle owners whose medical professionals have certified as being unable to walk without assistance or who have restrictions caused by lung disease, defective vision, or cardiac, arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic conditions (N.C. General Statutes 20-37.6).
The biggest problem regarding enforcement of accessible parking is not the individual violators; it is the complete lack of any sort of enforcement. I just turned 25 and I have never experienced life without accessible spaces. You would think I wouldn't have anything to complain about on this issue anymore, but despite getting media attention on the issue, I have never personally seen any of the parking laws enforced and have never heard of anyone receiving a ticket.
In preparation for this column, I found several Facebook pages meant to shame violators. One example can be found here.I assume it is a way for people to take the law into their own hands by posting pictures of the violations. Some of the worst offenders are police officers, delivery drivers, and 'privileged' drivers. Sadly, I have no idea how to fix that problem. If those meant to enforce the law are breaking the law, then there is little hope of change.
It has gotten to be an unfortunate joke in the disability community that accessible spots go first in parking lots.
I get the excuse that the violator will only be 'running in for a minute,' others park in the ramp space, which is not even a real space, and there are other people with placards that park in the van accessible spaces, which is now against the law in NC. Yesterday, some driver parked over the line into the ramp space and I had to be lifted onto the ramp.
It isn't just cars that misuse the spots. Recently, two golf carts being charged blocked my way. Trash cans and other random objects can also be readily found. Parking spots aren't the only problem. Many times curb cuts are blocked by cars or other objects.
One of the first of many changes I made in college was to advocate for a curb cut to gain access to the gym. It took them 6 months to finally build it and then they promptly stuck a 4 ft. concrete pole in the middle of it, to block golf carts from using it. My college wasn't the first place to begin with good intentions and end with a hot mess.
Surfing the internet, I found examples of accessible spots being used as snow removal spots, some had trees growing in the middle of them, others housed dumpsters, police cars, mailboxes, planters and so on and so forth.
Several of the United States are beginning to take these problems more seriously. Here, in North Carolina, there has been a movement to put pictures on the placards and link the placards to driver licenses, ID cards and/or license plates. NC has also passed a law clarifying that spaces marked as van accessible are indeed for vans. Who knew?
According to an article in Disability Scoop, Connecticut has a "stiff" $500. fine for using a dead person's placard. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
It used to be that anyone could fill out forms and get someone to sign it, but that is no longer the case in New Jersey, where anyone convicted of making a false statement or providing misinformation to get a placard is subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and 18 months in prison.
I am in full support of the new laws, but I worry that since the other laws weren't enforced, that these new laws will have the same outcome.
While we are on the subject of parking, let's talk about signage. Although I, like many people, still refer to the parking spaces as "Handicapped Spaces," this is an outdated description. Nowhere on the newer signs is the word handicapped used at all. The politically correct description uses the less offensive term accessible parking. The newest signs have the international symbol of the white stick figure on a blue background and sometimes it has the symbol and the word "Reserved." Sometimes signs list fine amounts. I often see outdated signs that display the wrong fine amount.
Despite the recent updates in the laws, stupidity is still not considered a disability. My friends and I are still dealing with that. You know what they say, "Ya can't fix stupid."
I know people that do things like leave apology notes for scratches that aren't really there, leave nasty notes, and people that let the air out of tires. I'm encouraged by the change happening in the enforcement laws. I think it has a lot to do with these small protests. The best protest is Brazillian video I just found that went viral featuring brilliant work with blue and white post it notes. The protesters turned the violator's car into a giant accessible symbol using nothing, but post it notes.
I gotta wrap this up and go get some post it notes.
That's the way I roll.