We have had a disability parking permit for Sarah Kate since she was very young. Up until age three, she used a walker, then canes for several months until she no longer needed assistive devices (other than braces, which she still wears). She still has issues with endurance and balance. We keep the disability permit because she still needs it occasionally (Walt Disney World!), but we use it much less often these days, and it’s been a long time since I used it when there was only one space available – I prefer to leave the last space for someone who may need it more.
At the pool where her swim team practices, limited parking exists near the building, most of it disability spaces, and it’s inside a roundabout-thingy where folks drop off and pick up their kids. Often, I’ve been blocked from either parking or backing out by moms sitting in vehicles, waiting for kids who emerge…eventually. One day last week I waited several minutes for a lady to pull forward far enough for me to get out, only to have the woman behind her pull immediately forward and block me again (note that I had my brake lights on and had backed out as far as possible in order to “signal” my intent).
It was mildly irritating.
From around 20 months up until kindergarten, Sarah Kate attended MDO/preschool at a church that was located in an older section of town. It had a tiny lot with disability spaces next to the building, and parallel parking on the street, but most of the parking options required crossing a two-lane road. Day after day, I showed up to drop Sarah Kate off for preschool and all of the spaces were filled.
Bad luck, right? Limited space, right? Nope. I knew most of the parents – many of whom attended that church with us. I knew which cars the moms drove, and a handful of them were the ones that I saw, day after day, parking illegally in the disability spaces.
It was frustrating.
Every time that I wasn’t able to park in a disability space, my blood boiled. I could either wait for the mom who parked there “just for a minute” to come out and move, making Sarah Kate late for preschool and possibly making me late for whatever appointment I had scheduled for that morning so I could go without a preschooler in tow (a crap shoot because all the moms knew each other and often would stop to chat in the hall “just for a minute” that would turn into 30), or I could seek out a regular parking space.
Parallel spaces near the building were rarely located conveniently near a ramp and most were near the entrance of the building that had only stairs. Parking across the street would require Sarah Kate to cross the street using her walker (read: very slowly in a high traffic area), then either finding a ramp or lifting her and her walker over the tall curb. Alternatively, I could make two trips – one with her and one with the walker – taking excess time that wouldn’t be needed if we were able to park in one of the disability spaces.
It was maddening.
Eventually, I approached the preschool director about the problem, and she sent out a nicely worded letter asking people not to park in disability without a permit. People stopped – for a few weeks. The offenders weren’t nameless, faceless punks engaging in selfish jackassery that I could curse under my breath and go on about my way. They were women that I knew well – moms whose children were Sarah Kate’s playmates and were familiar with her needs and challenges. They seemed not to care one iota that their desire for personal convenience was regularly making our already challenging situation that much more difficult. Their actions told me that while they may have given lip service to embracing differently-abledness, they didn’t feel it in their hearts.
It hurt. A lot.
I know that they weren’t doing it out of malice, just like I know most people who use the r-word don’t do it to be hateful to me or my family. But…that’s exactly my point. All too often, people don’t give any thought at all to how their actions impact others, as long as it benefits them in some way. I wonder: if those women knew that, over five years later and 350 miles away, I’m still hurt by what they did, would they still think that saving a couple of minutes was worth it? Maybe they wouldn’t care, but they probably DO care about what other people think about them – it’s human nature. Would you think highly of someone who did what they did? Would you have done what they did?
Note: I try very hard not to judge, because I’ve forgotten to hang our placard on the mirror from time to time, and I’ve been the target of dirty looks (I’m obviously able-bodied when I get out of the car in my running clothes, and if Sarah Kate isn’t out of the car yet, I certainly LOOK like an offender). Having said that, some people willingly choose to break the rules, and others are just plain inconsiderate. They are the ones of which I post.