Have you ever seen someone get out of a car parked in a space reserved for the disabled, who did not LOOK disabled? Did it make you very uncomfortable or even upset? Did you let them know of your disapproval by giving them a dirty look or yelling something at them?
Well, you are not alone. Many people are very disturbed by the sight of a seemingly mobile person stealing the space of someone who is truly in need of it. After all, we want to protect the rights of people for whom these spaces are reserved!
However, in wanting to help those who deserve these parking spaces, we actually may be hurting someone who does have a legal right and a legitimate need to park there. How can this be true, you ask? Isn’t it obvious who is and who is not disabled? The answer is... NO.
The qualifications for the general accessible parking spaces include those using chairs, walkers, crutches and canes, as well as some whose impairments are not always so obvious to the onlooker. I refer to these impairments which cause disabilities that are not so apparent from the outside, as " invisible disabilities."
There are thousands of people who are forced to contend with serious illnesses, injuries and circumstances, which have left them with mountains to climb every time they take a step. Most people do not realize that a person can have hindrances that come from the inside and may not even be visible on the outside. Their restrictions may not be conspicuous at a glance, but their pain, limitations and inability to function normally is all very debilitating in reality.
What may seem easy to you, may seem like a 14,000 foot hurdle to them. Being able to park close to the entrance of a building when they need to, allows them to run an errand they otherwise would not have been able to conquer. Many even collapse in stores, become very dizzy and weak or even black-out..
Here are just a few invisible reasons a person may be able to park in the accessible spaces:
Arthritis, Back Injury, Brain Injury, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes, Heart Condition, Lupus, Lyme Disease, Muscular Disorders, Multiple Sclerosis, Neurological Disorders, Osteoporosis, Organ Transplant, Oxygen Impairment, Parkinson’s Disease, Difficult Pregnancy, Prosthetic, Seizure Disorder, Spinal Disorders, Surgery and several others.
Wow! So, They Really Need It?
For many, the shortened distance from the parking lot allows them to: walk into a building to use an electric cart or wheelchair; avoid dangerous exposure to heat, cold and exhaust fumes; use their energy for shopping; get back to their car when they have used up all of their energy inside; or simply to remember where they parked.
As you can imagine, it is very uncomfortable when people stare, because they think you do not look like you need to park in a reserved parking space. As a result, many people with these circumstances are left feeling afraid to use the very spaces that were intended to help them, even when they need it!
Honorably, most with invisible disabilities genuinely want to leave these spaces open for others if possible. Most will: not park in a space that is intended for wheelchairs and scooters; try to park somewhere else if there are not several spaces left for those who may need one; just have someone drop them at the door; or not park in an accessible space at all on a "better" or "good" day.
What we usually do not realize, is that most people with illnesses and injuries would jump at the chance to trade their plates and placards in for the ability to walk from the farthest parking space! To those who are healthy and able to walk, they see these spaces as a bonus or luxury! But, for those who are sick or in pain, it is just a reminder of what they have lost. After all, these spaces do not make life easy, they make it possible.
So, How Do You Know If They Should Be Parking There?
First of all, no person has the right to park in the access isles, which are placed next to both accessible and van accessible spaces. These are the striped areas next to the parking places and are designed to help those maneuver themselves and their assistive devices out of the car door. When someone fills up these isles, a person could get blocked in or out of their vehicle.
Second, there are spots strictly set aside for those using wheelchairs or motor scooters. Not every parking lot has them, but for those that do, they are clearly marked, "Van Accessible." These spaces are 96" wide, with a stripped 96" space to the side, allowing the person to maneuver their chair or scooter out with a lift or ramp. It is not illegal for someone without a chair to park in a van accessible space, but it should be left open for those with the specific need.
On the other hand, the rest of the reserved spaces are properly referred to as "accessible parking spaces." They are marked with a sign that often has a logo of a wheelchair. However, this does not mean that it is only for those using chairs. This logo is the universal and international symbol for "disability" or "disabled."
The purpose of the accessible spaces is to assist those with all types of disabilities and disabling conditions. For those with limitations, the spots help to make it possible for the visitor to shop and run errands.
How do you know who can park in an accessible space and who cannot? Look for a temporary or permanent placard in the front window or a disabled license plate. These items are received through an application form in which a patient’s doctor must fill out for them, through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The DMV has specific guidelines and requirements the person must meet in order to receive a placard or license plate. They take into consideration the impairments due to the illness or injury, as well as the implications and aggravations of symptoms and limitations. Therefore, if a person is issued a license and is displaying it, then they have the LEGAL, MEDICAL RIGHT TO PARK THERE.
But, What If They
DON'T Have A License To Park There?
Anyone who parks in a space reserved for those with accessibility needs, must display their placard or license or they can be fined. You can call the sheriff’s department of that county if it is not on private property; however, the vehicle must be illegally parked when the officer arrives (do not call 911!). Or, you can notify a security guard to ticket them or the store manager to page the owner by license plate number and vehicle description.
But, what about those people who use their relative’s placard, when their relative is not even with them? Well, this is definitely immoral, selfish and disrespectful as well as being illegal; there is NO excuse of this dishonest behavior. However, unless you know them and know without a doubt is not their placard, it is in the best interest of those of us who suffer from invisible disabilities to just smile and assume they have a right to be there.
These reserved spaces are designed to help those in need of them for a number of reasons. Without these spaces, seemingly simple tasks in life would be excruciatingly painful, overwhelming, impossible or even life threatening for thousands of people, whether the disability is visible or invisible.
Finally, it is honorable for you to care if these spots are being abused by those who do not need them. Just remember, as shown in this article, you cannot be the judge of who deserves to park in the accessible spaces and who does not, just by looking at them.
Therefore, if a person is displaying a license to park in an accessible parking space, try offering a hand, instead of a visual judgment; after all..."the people you are graciously intending to defend, may be standing right in front of you!"
This booklet explains how a person can be damaged by an illness and/or injury on the inside, but still “look fine” to others on the outside. It gives detailed suggestions of “what not to say” and explanations as to why. In addition, the booklet provides many examples of “what to say” to be an encouragement and offers practical “ways to help.”
For ordering information and to read more articles written by Sherri, visit The Invisible Disabilities Advocate at: www.InvisibleDisabilities.comPlease contact IDA for permission to distribute or publish this article.