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Stop Making Excuses for Misusing Disability Parking

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This morning I went to the gas station. I fueled my car and when I paid, I got change to put in the machine to check the air pressure in the car tires.

A car was already parked in the marked space with a man clearly doing his own tires, so I parked in the next space and waited. On the far side of the air/water area is a lone disabled parking space for the gas station shop. A car was parked there with three occupants and displaying no blue badge.

When the guy finished doing his tires, he reversed out. I gave him a smile and then maneuvered into the space he had just vacated.

The woman in the driver’s seat of the car in the disabled space wound down the window and said that she was waiting to use the machine. “And I thought you were just spuriously parked in a disabled space without displaying a blue badge,” I replied. I went on to respectfully ask whether she did indeed have a blue badge (of course the answer was no), suggested she move her car out of the disabled space and started checking my tires.

An argument ensued. I kept calm and kept smiling. She and her passenger became nasty and abusive. Admittedly it was easier to stay calm when I had a hold of the pump and was able to complete the task at hand. The exchange brought about several commonly-heard clichés and excuses, and I’ve chosen to write about this particular incident to present the counter to each specious justification.

“If somebody wanted the space, they could just ask for it.”

Firstly, this supposes that the individual who has the right to use the space has the vocabulary, capacity, ability and confidence to say, “Excuse me, could you please vacate that space so I can use it?” Secondly, I have just asked you to move and you are refusing to do so. Thirdly, why should the person with a valid permit who is entitled to use the space have to ask you to move and wait for you to do so? You are deliberately and willfully blocking their access.

“Nobody else needs it” and “Nobody is waiting for it.”

Erm, how do you know? Someone who has a valid right may have parked elsewhere to avoid confrontation, or has the mistaken assumption that the person parked in the disabled bay has a right to be there. Someone may have driven past and carried on to shop elsewhere, or skipped their errand because they couldn’t park. The disabled space doesn’t just offer parking close to the store, it has the lines around it to allow people with significant mobility issues or wheelchair users with side access doors to get in and out of their vehicle.

“There was nowhere else to park.”

In this case, the parking lot was half empty, there is one disabled space and about 20 for able-bodied people. You are preventing every single person with a disability permit from parking. They genuinely have nowhere to park. You had a whole host of options available to you. This is a common excuse I have heard, and yet on the spot I can usually come up with at least three viable alternatives for them. There is no alternative for many people with disabilities.

“I’m not going to be long” and “There was no point in moving.”

Immaterial. The simple act of pulling into a disabled parking space when you have no right to be there is “too long” and “pointless.”

“I’m in a rush. I have an appointment.”

People with disabilities have appointments too. In fact, they may have a lot more appointments than an abled person, and it is far harder for them to attend. This is why disabled spaces are essential, as they enable people who have a blue badge to complete their tasks. If you are in a rush, that’s your problem. Parking in a disabled space makes it someone else’s problem too.

“I have my 3-year-old son in the car.”

Unless he has a valid blue badge, it’s again immaterial. For the record, I also had my 3-year-old son in the car.

The woman and her passenger eventually became frustrated and angry, and resorted to flinging supposed insults. Eventually they stormed into the shop for reinforcements and came out with a young employee in tow, who “helpfully” said, “In fairness, I would have parked there too.”

I telephoned later that morning to speak to the manager, who was suitably apologetic that a member of staff had said this. Without me even asking, he promised to speak to the employee and tell him there are no circumstances under which it is OK for anyone to park in the disabled space without a permit. Kudos to him for taking the matter seriously.

Whenever I challenge someone parking illegally in a disability space, they try to justify it. Every. Single. Time. They use ableist excuses that make me wonder if they are even listening to their own words. Only once was the excuse accompanied by a genuine apology, and I felt such respect for that woman, even if I did still challenge her defense.

If you still don’t get it, imagine this: I decide to park on your driveway. I double park right up close to your car and block you in. I walk into your house and start making myself a lovely cup of tea in your kitchen and rooting through your cupboards for biscuits — or any scenario where I have absolutely no right to be there and you do. Apply those same excuses and hear how crass and ridiculous they sound now.

People with disabilities fight every day for the right to have an equal place in an ableist world. Any justification, however valid it seems to you, merely states to the world that you think you are better than disabled people. That your rights and your life are somehow more important than theirs. This is not acceptable. Be the solution, not the problem.

Getty image by Myibean.

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