July 24, 2012

Handicapped Parking Revisited

As I do many mornings, I met a  friend for coffee at our local Fourbux.  For the most part, I've given up the "ladies who lunch," too expensive and chops a hole in my day.  This morning I beat my friend by ten minutes and stood outside just watching people buzz in and out.
Observing people in all situations is something I really enjoy.  I guess most writers may often feel like that mouse in the corner, seeing the world from our own biases and vantage point.
This morning I stood outside, even though it was already in the high 80s and the air was chunky with humidity and pollution. There are two handicapped parking spaces directly in front of the shop.  
About ten other spaces are there for customers.  On both sides of the store are ample parking lots for overflow at CVS and at an unopened strip map across the street.  All of the spaces were filled except the handicapped spaces.
Without exception, no one parked in the overflow parking.  All five spaces were filled with people who did not have parking stickers.  I've spent most of my life working in the disability community (I don't particularly like the word "handicap" because we are all "handicapped" in one way or another.)  
My father was born with a physical disability, so I had a heightened awareness most of my life as to what that can mean.
At the place next to the door, a woman in a nurses uniform pulled in quickly and slammed on her brakes to stop in the spot.  She jumped out of the car and ran into Starbucks.  I had to walk in front of her car, and then the others, to see if any of them had a handicapped sticker. None of them did.
My friend came and we went inside.  The women in the nurses uniform was not in a particular hurry because she sat with her coffee and newspaper at a table, quietly reading.
When she slammed into the parking space, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I thought, well, she's is in a big hurry and she's thinking "Just this one time, I'll park in handicapped and I'll only be here a minute and if someone comes in who needs the space, I'll move."
Apparently that wasn't what she was thinking, because she was still there when I left an hour later.   Parking was still heavy.
I am not handicapped.  As the mother of a young man with autism, I know that disabilities are not always visible.
My mother-in-law was disabled for 26 years after a car accident, and my own mother needed to be in a wheelchair for the last year of her life.  It annoyed the living hell out of me to go somewhere and not have a parking space, when I knew that I was going to drag the world's heaviest wheelchair out of my sedan trunk.
However, I'll give you this.  I don't have a disability, so when I couldn't find a space it just made me mad, but it really didn't matter.  My mother-in-law or mother was getting in the chair I brought them, and it didn't hurt me as a typically abled person to push the wheelchair a little farther.
But it makes me mad because I know a lot of people who need those spots, and people carelessly take them for themselves without batting an eye.
I didn't say anything to the nurse.  I wish I had.   I feel like a coward now.  I wonder if she is still sitting there.
Do you park in handicapped spaces?
Would you confront someone, typically abled, without a parking plate or sticker who did?