My husband and I never thought too much about handicap parking until we had a child with mobility challenges.
Our son has spina bifida myelomeningocele. The doctors predicted he would need a wheelchair to get around because they thought he would be mostly paralyzed below the waist. He proved them wrong and he uses a walker and does a pretty darn good job of it. He tends to move slower than most kids over long distances, but he does a really good job.
Like any other kid, he needs exercise and excitement, so we like to take him out to lots of places like zoos, parks, and museums. But we often have problems with parking.
We know that at popular family attractions there are going to be more people with disabilities. And we don't have a problem when all the parking spots are taken up people who are legitimately impaired in their mobility.
It's the families who hop out of the car without any problems that bother us.
Oh yes, we see it all the time. We're circling the parking lot looking for a space and then we see some family all bound ably out of a car parked in a handicap parking space. No assistive devices, not a shuffle or a limp on anyone. They have handicap placard so technically, there is nothing anyone can do about it. But when you take a handicap spot when you don't have anyone who is handicapped with you, you are actually hurting other people. Let me explain...
One time we were making our usual circle through the zoo parking lot trying to find a parking space and a handicap spot opened up right in the front. We were angling to turn in when another car swooped in and took it. Out hopped a woman and two children, all walking perfectly fine. My husband got out and said, "Hey! What do you think you're doing? That's a handicap spot!" The woman responded, "I have two children with me." To which my husband said, "Well so do I and one of them uses a walker!" She didn't say anything and went on inside.
I wanted to talk to her myself so once I found her inside the zoo I stopped for a chat. When I asked her why she had taken a handicap parking spot when no one in her party had a walking disability, her story changed. "The handicap placard is for me," she said, looking up at me through designer sunglasses. "What disability do you have?" I asked. "My knees are bad," she responded. This must be a very rare and curious condition since her knees were only bad enough to prevent her from walking through the parking lot but not around the zoo all day.
Another time we made our usual circuit around the parking lot and found no handicap spots and had to settle for a spot a little ways away from the zoo entrance. As my husband was getting up to the sidewalk hauling our four year old and his walker, he saw a woman who had parked in one of the handicap spots get out with her children. All were perfectly mobile. The woman had a stroller with her- perhaps this is why she felt it was imperative that she have a handicap parking spot. As my husband set our son and his walker down the woman looked up and saw him. Guilt registered on her face and she quickly looked away.
I'm not the only one either. When I was in college one of my good friends broke her foot and was on crutches for several weeks. She often encountered the same problem. The handicap spots were taken up and an individual would walk out of his or her car just fine with the handicap placard tucked neatly in their window.
And here's the other thing: As far as equipment goes, we have it easy compared to a lot of parents. On one of these outings where we couldn't find parking at the zoo, I met a mom who had a boy who was immobile. He was a placental abruption baby, and if you know anything about placental abruption, you've probably heard that most babies don't make it. Once the placenta detaches from the uterine wall, the clock is ticking and most of the time the baby isn't born quickly enough to live. But this little boy had made it. He was severely brain damaged, but he had fought to live. He had a much more involved set up than we had because of his condition. Since they entered the zoo at the same time we did, and all the handicap spots were taken, I had to wonder if they were able to find a handicap spot. I see families with kids in special strollers carrying oxygen tanks and breathing monitors, but they're still out because they want their child to experience the good things of the world.
It's ironic to me really. Most people have the ability to walk and get around without problems, but seem to consider it a curse. How awful it is that they have to walk through the parking lot to get to the entrance of a store or attraction. They strap their 4, 5 and 6 year old children in strollers so that the kids don't run around. (Note, when we have been out and about some of these children actually seem rather envious of our son. Their parents have confined them while our boy gets to go out in his walker and move around.)
So please, next time you are tempted to bemoan your fate of having to walk up to an entrance and want to use your parent's or grandparent's handicap placard to get out of it, take a moment and look up at the sky. Say a prayer of thanks to God that you can use your legs without difficulty. Then put the handicap placard back in the glove compartment and take a walk. It's good for the body and the soul.