Having a wheelchair accessible van is great, but what’s the point of having one if you can seldom park it? Lately, we’ve been hearing more and more complaints about a problem that is sadly common: violations of handicap parking spaces. Whether it’s perfectly healthy people without a placard parking in the blue spaces or a vehicle parked within the blue hash marks, it’s just wrong and illegal.
It’s easy to point the finger at the general public. If they weren’t so lazy, accessible vehicles would be able to park in the easy access spots they’re entitled to, right? While that may be a legitimate cause, I believe the heart of the problem is a much bigger issue: ignorance.
The majority of us officially learned to drive in drivers’ education classes. We learned to go right on red, come to a complete stop for all stop signs, and to keep both hands on the wheel. While all these things are driving essentials, drivers’ education classes fail to adequately touch on handicap parking spaces. We’re told not to park in them without a government issued placard, and that’s the last we hear of it. What the general public doesn’t realize is how necessary these handicap spaces are for individuals with physical disabilities. Even if you’re only running into the grocery store for 10 minutes, those with accessible vans cannot park in a regular spot. There is no place to let down a ramp, and it’s a bit difficult (not to mention dangerous) to navigate a wheelchair across the parking lot.
This brings us into our second major violation: parking in the blue hash marks beside a handicap space. The handicap spaces with the hash marks are made specifically for those with mobility vans. The van is able to park in the blue parking spot, while the hash marks provide the 6 feet of extra space necessary for the van to deploy its ramp and allow the passenger inside to exit. When someone parks in the blue hash mark zone, they prevent the van from deploying the ramp, leaving its passenger trapped inside.
Before I began work for the BraunAbility team, I can honestly say I walked past the hash marks without a clue what they meant. I would say the majority of teen drivers, and even many adults would agree with me. While part of the issue may be a lack of respect, I believe the true culprit here is education. Educating the public about disability is simply not made a priority.
But why leave this education strictly to the government? Next time you’re out and about searching for a spot to park your van, educate someone. As tempting as it can be, instead of blowing up on a person parked illegally, try explaining to them first what exactly a handicap spot means. You might find they don’t really realize they’re in the wrong, or how big of an impact parking in these spaces makes. By educating these violators a ripple effect is started. Slowly but surely, we can combat this problem. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll live in a world where blue spaces are used just as they should be!
With that in mind, I’d like to leave you with this quote from author Edward Hale: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something…”