Thursday, 1 June 2006

Guest Slapper of the Month V

Still Life of dancing in place is one of the most exciting people I’ve had the privilege of ‘meeting’ in cyberspace. She may be stiller than she used to be physically (I gather she led a very active life before her accident) but mentally… wow! She writes beautifully about her new life. Here she is – in slapping mode:


Last week I received a parcel surprise. A t-shirt sent from my friend Alice, catering to my slightly bent sense of humor. Its color was an ice cream swirl of pinks and cranberry, and in the center was the universal symbol of accessibility flanked by the message...

However we all know that within every bite of sarcasm, there is sure to be a smidgen of truth -- and apparently Dateline felt the same.

The other evening I took much vengeful pleasure in watching a segment which exposed able-bodied drivers taking advantage in the use of handicapped parking spaces at a local Walmart. As each driver exited their vehicle and began WALKING to their locations, the field reporter approached and asked (ever so nicely), excuse me, but what type of disability do you have which allows you to park in that reserved space? I wooped. Responses ran the gamut: from jacket shielding of the face and running from camera view to adamant claims of entitlement (chronic leg pain, night blindness (it was midday), partial hearing, etc.). Some even went as far as to produce counterfeit or expired temporary placards (disabled parking identifications cards) -- Shameful.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses are required to provide at least one handicapped parking spot per every 25 spaces. This particular establishment had seven accessible spots, so I can safely assume that the lot's entirety was that of at least 168 other available options. One offender, with identity protected, summed it up by admitting to the pros (proximity and availability) outweighing the cons ($110 penalties and social tsk-tsks). And to me, for once, the words spoke louder than the actions.

I understood clearly this person's attitude of disregard to my or any other physically challenged person's human needs and rights. It is also the unspoken evidence each time a person causes me to wait outside of five empty bathroom stalls because they prefer the spaciousness and private mirror afforded in "mine". Or when I am not able to maneuver my chair up an accessible ramp because someone on foot is blocking my path, self-righteous and unapologetic, they silently tell me --"I don't really care". So, to all of those making less of my greater needs: those who use my parking space, my bathroom stall, my water fountains, my ATMs, my public phones...if you don't want to sit in the chair, then stay off the ramp!



  1. Your post was well stated and this is a pet peeve of mine as well. Obviously, it hurts people who are disabled more than me, but it still bothers me.

    There is only one exception (and I realize that the genuine cases are rare) that I think should be mentioned. Some people genuinely have heart and/or breathing problems. They need to park closer, as they are not in good shape. No, I am not one of them, but I know of a couple of people like that. Sometimes, they May Look healthy...but in reality they are not.

    In general, I definitely go along with your slap. Disabled parking and special bathroom privileges belong to people who Are genuinely disabled. This was a good, well thought out post on an important subject. Thank you for bringing this up.

  2. At one of the universities where I worked some football players were busted for using bogus handicapped parking passes. Can you believe the gall?

    My pet peeve is people who park in driveways right where the sidewalk is passing through. I'm sure it doesn't occur to them that a wheelchair can't pass; I'm sure they're not even thinking about wheelchairs. Oh--and I hate it when snowplows plow big heaps of snow into banks right where sidewalks cross the road.

    I will admit, unfortunately, to not being conscious of any of this until I had a public speaking student with MS who gave a speech addressing it all. The thought that she was PAYING TUITION and could not get to class because the snowplow people were ADA noncompliant really got to me.


  3. I once had a powerchair roll over my toes, it hurt, that's a harsh way to slap! (I was in Paris at the time, which was some kind of compensation.)

    My habit in this particular forum is to say yeah, but no. I have to disagree, it's just in my nature. Sadly it's early, I'm sleepy, this may not be eloquent or well-spelled.

    Are you saying only people with visible, mobility disabilities should be allowed to park close to venues? I'm sure a person with only a hearing impairment is capable of walking a little further. But if there is one system for lumping all disabilities together, and they are classified as just as disabled as a person with limited mobility then, is it right that they should hog your space?

    While I'm aware there is widespread abuse of accessibility facilities, many people have hidden disabilities, temporary ill health or injuries, the undiagnosed early stages of impairment, pregnancy or small children. It is not only those with permits or obvious, visible needs who need.

    So I'll slap (and cheer the toe rolling) of conceited system abusers who don't care that they are causing more than a minor inconvenience by their selfish behaviour. They'll learn if they live long enough. But I'll also plead for everyone to keep their heart open to that which the eye can't see.

    I think I need a cup of coffee now.

  4. Hi Tinkerbell! I absolutely agree. There are certain criteria which must be met in order to qualify for a license (and must be determined by a physician). Most are obvious physical limitations, but there are others:
    --if the person uses portable oxygen;
    --is restricted by lung disease to such an extent that forced expiratory respiratory volume, when measured by spirometry is less than one liter per second or the arterial oxygen tension is less than sixty mm/hg on room air at rest;
    --is impaired by cardiovascular disease or cardiac condition to the extent that the person's functional limitations are classified as class iii or iv under standards accepted by the American Heart Association.

    I only refer to those who consider indifference or laziness to be a disability! ;-)

  5. Bela, I thought that I had also better come clean with past indiscretions--before my injury, I once received a $90 ticket for parking in a handicapped zone...
    (I was only in the story a second)

  6. I think most people's gut reaction would be to join whole-heartedly in your well-deserved SLAP...but your post raises deeper issues. 'Disability', as well as 'ability', exists along a continuum, doesn't it? At what point does 'disability' become such an impediment to ordinary life that a person needs/deserves special accommodation?

    My father is one of those people Tinkerbell mentioned, a person with debilitating heart disease - but you'd never know it to look at him. He appears to be hale and fairly hearty - and he's managed to live 14 years with a condition that doctors predicted would kill him within five. His longevity can be attributed at least partly to the adjustments he's made to his lifestyle - and using handicap parking when needed has been one of them. (Yes, he has a placard.) He has several times been accosted by (I'm sure) well-meaning people who denounced him for taking a handicap space from those who 'needed it'. How humiliating - isn't it bad enough to suffer the indignities of disease itself, without having strangers ask you to justify your need?

  7. This discussion reminds me of an experience I had a few years ago. On every college campus there's an office for assisting students with learning disabilities. Kids who suspect they might have a learning disability go there to get tested. If the office determines that they have special learning needs, they get a letter that they're expected to give to their professors at the start of the semester so special testing arrangements can be made.

    You can see where this is going: letter = parking pass. I once gave a test to a large class, and my students with letters got to take a different version of the exam. Some other students found out and were really upset that they didn't get to take the different version. I explained that if they think they really have a learning disability, they need to get tested and GET THAT LETTER. They had trouble understanding that they don't get the special version just by arguing that they have trouble with multiple choice exams; they need proof of having undergone some kind of rigorous assessment.

    In other words, I agree that there are people out there with health problems and disabilities (however they're defined) that would warrant a closer parking space, but I still think the spaces should be reserved for those who go through the testing (which is quite rigorous, as still life described) and get a pass the legit way.

    BTW, when I was pregnant I never once used those stork parking spots. I was brisk-walking for an hour a day right up until delivery. I figured there were pregnant women in much worse shape than I (e.g., with preeclampsia) who needed those spots a lot more. If someone with a handicapped parking pass is fairly able-bodied, I would think it admirable of them to give up the space for someone who needs it more. And do I even need to mention able-bodied family members driving their disabled relatives' cars? If they even THINK about parking in the designated spots, pass or no pass, off with their heads.

    p.s. I use the ADA-compliant stall in the bathroom all the time. I'm 8 feet tall and my flailing arms need the space. Not once have I come out to find someone in a wheelchair waiting, but if I did I'd feel like a worm. Don't ask why my arms flail when I go to the bathroom.

  8. I have also seen people who acted very hale using handicap stalls and spots. I am indeed mindful that some people have "hidden" disabilities - I am referring to those that walk very quickly (or trot!) into the mall. I've been thinking about making up business cards to tuck under the wipers that say something sarcastic (funny, you don't LOOK disabled) in such cases.

  9. mikki, thank you SO MUCH for voicing this well-deserved slap (everyone that deserves this KNOWS it!)

  10. (sorry that I've not answered in order...I forgot that moderator was on)

    Winterwheat, Horrid. Last Summer I was completely blocked from access to a HOSPITAL cross-way by a van. I had my aid go to summon the parking lot security (uselessly standing inside of the building lobby), and when she did nothing, I stayed put until the driver came out and had to face me! Apologies around and around of course.

    JvS No, no, no. Whoever legitimately is issued a permit can park away. But often the permits are temporarily issued to accommodate a recent surgery etc. and have expired. And more often then not, they have no placard at all nor ever did.

    Red-Queen yes, but your father then qualifies as being LEGALLY deserving! My issues are with the lawless. In the U.S., each state has mandated criteria which must be met in order to qualify for a license (I posted a few in my response to Tinkerbell and your Father most certainly falls in that category). Absolutely not acceptable to humiliate someone in that manner. Should never happen.

  11. Excellent point Winterwheat because regardless of whether there is a permit legally issued or not, there are limited spaces in any given lot and someone will always be more deserving than another. People need to be conscientious of this and act in good judgement.
    And the students sound to be looking for an easy out instead of being appreciative of their mental abilities.

    Dddragon there are actually people in the "chair community" who do this. With permanent adhesives that have to be SCRAPED with a tool from the windshield. But then I think that that then falls into the area of vandalism or worse induce bad karma! ;-)

  12. Here, Here! I agree that we don't automatically know for sure what a person's handicap is, and so shouldn't judge, but lots of people abuse the handicap parking spaces.

  13. As soon as I read your comment about getting a ticket, yourself, I remembered the event. A Fiero was involved, no? Either that, or I was with someone else who did it because I remember the ticket cost...

    I get a little ticklish on this topic because of the issue of visibility and proof. For sure, there are people who abuse these accommodations. There are also people who are humiliated by being challenged regarding their right(s) to take advantage of them.

    In addition to the list you've named, there are:

    ~ People with artificial joints
    ~ People with lupus, fibromyalgia, RSD/CRPS, rheumatoid arthritis
    ~ People undergoing chemo or radiation treatments
    ~ People with certain mental illnesses
    ~ People with prosthetic limbs
    ~ People who are too large to fit into the smaller spaces

    Pain is often invisible.

    I can also share that while I was recovering from severe injuries, I did not have a placard. I routinely used the larger stall in public toilets because the seat was higher and I could manage it. Similarly, when, as a result of the same accident and the devastating effect it had on my metabolism, I gained a tremendous amount of weight, I used those stalls because I simply did not fit in the smaller ones. It's no longer an issue and I'm grateful. But I remember being taken to task by someone (who was not waiting for the accessible stall, but simply felt compelled to read me the riot act) for using the larger space. It was humiliating.

    I remember saying, "First of all, there is no one waiting. Second, everyone has to wait sometimes. Third, I do not fit in the regular stall and I needed to urinate. Who has been harmed?" And while she was unable to answer that last question, the entire event was a low nadir in my recovery period.

    It seems to me that we're quick to seek the cheaters, no matter how small their number relative to the issue. People go on at length about "welfare mommas", for example. Meanwhile, the deeper issues of why there are so many Americans who need assistance and why public spaces (especially ones created since the 1970s) require legislation in order to build in accessibility, or why we lump all disabilities under one umbrella, or even how we define or choose to use the word "disability"--these questions sit quietly in a dark corner, too difficult to translate into sound bites.

    I'm not slapping your slap, because it's really true that thoughtless selfishness abounds. I remember being particularly annoyed by the inconsistencies of ramps in Boston's Back Bay. I'd be tooling along in my wheelchair and discover that I was unable to get onto the sidewalk of many blocks because they had no ramps, at all. Others had ramps, but the angles were so extreme that the risk of toppling over was high. I didn't care about whether or not the shops in the Newbury St. brownstones were accessible as I did about whether or not I could get to work without having to wheel myself in the road on Boylston St during rush hour. Grrr... Yeah. It was irritating.

    I guess, if anything, I'm contemplating some of the complexities: functional and sociological. Part of why I love you is that you always make me think. :)


  14. dddragon:
    Why do you think it's up to you to decide who is and is not disabled? Even your description of someone who "trots" is hardly conclusive. For example, that person may be picking up the car's owner, who is in a wheelchair. Or, as is often the case with CRPS, it may be that they have more energy and mobility when they arrive at the mall than they will when leaving.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think it's dangerous to put yourself into the Judge And Jury role. You aren't omniscient. If you feel you must get involved, perhaps you could simple ask (politely), "Hey, how come you're parked in the handicapped spot?" With that approach, someone is bound to learn something.



  15. OK-- I confess. I would never, ever, use a handicap spot. Or even one marked for people with kids. But I do use handicapped washroom stalls.

    I figure if I need a bathroom stall badly enough-- well.

    Every store, every mall, every building here in Canada has at least one Handicap stall--doughnut shops, gas stations-- everyone.
    And often in smaller businesses it is 50% of the facilities.

    So I think the thought process here isn't that they are there for the exclusive use of the truly handicapped, just that they are easily accessible by wheel chairs if needed . Otherwise the queues when the buses full of blue rinse ladies on holiday hit the coffee shops would be hysterical.

    Truly, I have never felt guilty using one-- but there has never, at the time, been anyone around who could use only that stall, either.

    So I agree with most of the slap. But only most.

  16. This is such an interesting discussion!

    I haven’t had a car since 1974 so I can’t even be tempted to use the disabled parking spaces. I have to confess, though, that I have twice in my life used a disabled loo – both times in the theatre, during a rather short interval. If I’d been taken to task for doing it by anyone, I suppose I would have said what Dot said, “"First of all, there is no one waiting. Second, everyone has to wait sometimes.” However, I would have felt very guilty. I’m not trying to justify what I did, but on the second occasion I wondered how anyone in a wheelchair would have been able to access those loos at all. And I knew there weren’t any disabled people in the audience: it was a very poorly attended performance of something or other.

    I'm afraid lots of people do it: my partner and I saw Germaine Greer break away from a long queue at the National Theatre once and literally run to the disabled loo. She came out a couple of minutes later with a satisfied smile on her face and a look that meant, “Me, I haven’t done anything wrong. Not at all.” It was hilarious.

    About invisible health problems: I suffer from IBS and if (god forbid) it got worse there might be times when I wouldn’t be able to wait in line at all and would have to use the disabled loo quite legitimately, I think.

    Please don’t apologize, M, about not answering in order: I wasn’t around to ‘publish’ the comments earlier so they sat in my Inbox.

  17. I think what bugs me is that my mother recently received a free pass for public transport on account of her mental ill health. Before that she cycled everywhere. It ties in to the comment about just because you legally qualify you still ought to check you really need to use the parking space/service/facility, as there's bound to be someone more deserving/needy.

    At my workplace, interestingly, there is a single fitted-out-for-the-disabled toilet. There is also a single toilet for male men. It's one and the same. Tells you what they think about gender at my school.

    Hooray for another stimulating slap.

  18. Hi Libby, You sneaked right pass! ;)

    Actonbell, I 100% agree

    Dot Agreed (and yes it was the Fiero). However, again in your particular case, you qualified for a temporary permit right? (length of time to be determined by your physician). The poor soul who went toe to toe with you...

    Hi Saint Ellen! Little old ladies with blue tint always get the right of way! Hands down ;)

    Bela, This got some grrr up..I like that. Thank you for inviting me to an opinion.

  19. I agree with saint ellen.

    I have never, and (hopefully) will never use a disabled parking spot, but when nature calls, sometimes, you just have to listen immediately, regardless of the type of stall. Obviously, I'd seek a reguler stall first, but if left with no other options, I'll use the disabled person's stall.

    I reason that if a disabled person happens upon me in the act, it's better to endure the walk of shame with clean trousers than to have them trudge through my human waste on the way to their unoccupied stall.

  20. OK I'm officially late to comment ;)
    However, I have mixed feelings about this post. I am disabled and one would not know it to look at me. If someone, even politely, were to ask why I was using a handicap parking spot or stall I would be highly irritated! To put someone on the spot and humiliate them because they are not the poster child for disabilities is flatly wrong. Who are you to judge my disability as disabled enough? Granted there are doctors who hand out placards like M&M's but most who receive placards really do need special accommodation. If a few dishonest people get special accommodations it's all right with me.

    Now to end my rant...

    1- I have NEVER been to any public place where all of the handicap parking was taken, never.
    2- PUBLIC restrooms are for EVERYONE. We disabled people do not hold exclusive rights to the "big stalls."

  21. Bela it is nearly impossible to get a chair around theatres PERIOD, well enough in the "loo". Too much navigating spoils an entire experience for me. Invisible health problems are the reason why no one needs to be soapbox talking to a stranger (in the restroom no less)--IBS syndrome being one.

    JvS cycling also a benefit for her health. JvS yes men are slightly lacking in areas... ;)

    Hi BJ, you're such a card, but I do get your point. Thank you for coming here

  22. I've been trying to work out why it is that I would never, ever ever park in a disabled spot but will, quite often, dash into a 'big stall'. Why do I think one is not OK and the other not so bad? I guess it's to do with the level of inconvenience caused (no pun intended). If you go to the loo, first you look round to check no disabled person within sight needs to use the stall. That gives you 30 seconds for sure - and I'm the Fastest Pee in the West. At most, I take 90 seconds in a toilet, so if someone disabled appeared, minus that 30 seconds when they weren't in sight, they would have to wait at most 60 more seconds. And I'm there all the time, I haven't gone away. I also try tp be extra-extra fast when using a disabled stall; I would never redo my make-up in the mirror in there or have a complete washdown or pick my spots and change all my clothes or whatever it is some women do in public toilets that takes them SO LONG! I try to make sure I leave the loo roll in a good reachable place.

    Whereas, if you park your car and then disappear, you have no way of gauging or predicting how much distress, annoyance or inconvenience you are causing, and you also usually get out of having to apologise for it, too.

    I think in places where there simply aren't enough loos - or the proper ones are half broken, like always - the disabled stalls should be like those seats on the bus, the ones that say 'You must give up this seat if someone needs it more than you', that allow for the seat to be sensibly used by everyone when there is no one elderly or pregnant or carrying children or shopping. I even think it would be OK if people queued at the disabled stall, as long as anyone arriving who WAS disabled automatically got to go to the head of the queue.

    Having said all that, in my London streets I have sometimes in desperation parked over a corner kerb drop when arriving home late at night and not able to find a space in the resident parking bays. It had just never occurred to me that this might cause a problem, but now you've pointed it out, I won't do it any more. Slapping myself for that lack of awareness!

  23. the disabled stalls should be like those seats on the bus, the ones that say 'You must give up this seat if someone needs it more than you'

    oh Lulu, I love you...can you imagine?

    so disabled trumps able

    pregnant women probably trump the handicapped (except the blind)

    and then little old ladies are equivalent to a royal flush! (pun intended)

  24. Great rant! Well said. I've never understood the fear many people have of walking a minor distance from a parking space into a store. I mean, for many of us suburban types, it's practically our only exercise!

  25. Well said. =o)

    I think it's about people just trying to squeeze out from society as much as they can (or as much as they can get away with).

    it's a good thing that there are actually people out there who try to safeguard places and and ensure only the right people are able to use it.

  26. This is a very interesting topic, and in all fairness I feel that I must amend my original post.

    I realize that as dot so eloquently put it that "Pain is often invisible" I was and am just afraid that do many people would take advantage of a myridad of illnesses-some that do indeed require closer parking and some that do not.....

    Having said that, I think that dot and others made some very important, valid points. I would not want someone with a severe mental disorder (who's life is already hard enough) to have to go waundering in fear that could not be *seen* through a parking lot. Nor would I want anyone who had a difficult pregnancy, was going through chemo, or was recovering from surgery and very weak etc. to have to go through some sort of hell just because their pain was not as obviously visible as others.

    In all fairness, there Are situations (some temporary and some permanent) that render someone as incapacited as if they were in a wheelchair.

    As far as the "loo" thing. Better to rush to a handicapped bathroom then to risk the uneccessary humiliation of soiling oneself. In all honesty, in emergencies I have done this myself. It has to be a genuine "Definitely Can't Wait"- Must Go NOW type of thing,but if it is, then I'll do it. I hope that no one would hold this against me, but I honestly don't think I'll worry much if they do.

    Thanks again all for adding your minds and your hearts to this topic. It is a worthwhile one.

  27. AP3 They just don't realize how split second life is. I'd give anything to walk a parking lot...

    Leigh Yes, I think it is human nature to push that envelope a bit.

    Tinkerbell each state does have criteria which needs to be met, all of the ones that you mentioned would probably be physician approved.

    Please keep in mind that my rant was directed at those having NO medical disabilities or special needs.

    I so appreciate everyone's comments and opinions. Thank You.

  28. Still Life, first, I think your correct many people cannot comprehend a life on wheels and are stupidly inconsiderate.

    Also, you're right my post earlier really did focus on defending non-visible disabilities. This was more in response to some questions raised by others.
    There is NO excuse for using handicap parking if you are not legally entitled to.

    I think Leigh raised a good point though, some people will strive to milk society for everything they can. I feel that the criteria to get a handicap placard is too low. Thus, placards get handed out to many undeserving users but these undeserving users are the price of business to make sure the rights of the disabled are not trampled.

    However, I'll never see the harm in non-disabled people using "big stall" ;-).

    I enjoyed reading your post and comments they have been very insightful.

  29. I would say, it is none of your damn business what my handicap is!! The nerve!! I have a placard and you are not the handicap police, go away and bother me no more!!
    My husband has a disability that you can only see if he chooses to show you (extremely severe scoliosis and arthritis of the spine) and he uses walking aides only on occasion (a cane), but he needs to park close. So be it! And it is none of your business why he needs to park close to the door.
    You should see the crap he puts up with when he rides his motorcycle. They won't even give him a handicapped permit for that because their is no system set up for handicapped riders in Australia.


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