Americans have a way of taking a good idea, putting it into motion, and then turning it into a feeding frenzy that loses sight of the original idea. I am a supporter of social programs, but there is, without a doubt, extraneous spending in areas where people have widened the parameters from some original intents.
For the record, I do not agree with the new decreased budget for food stamps, but the supporters of that austerity measure are not completely without credibility when they point to system abuse.
One of those “great” ideas was brought forth by the American Disabilities Act of 1990. ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and it also ushered in a really thoughtful ordinance to create Handicapped Parking. These spaces are located closer to entrances of businesses, shopping centers, churches, banks and just about anywhere people park in larger numbers.
Every state differs in their application of this national ordinance, but essentially all follow the guideline of “parking a vehicle carrying a person whose mobility would be otherwise significantly impaired by one or more of age, illness, disability or infirmity.”
But, this is what has happened, as it does with nearly everything we get our hands on; we expand the parameters so as not to offend or exclude anyone and by doing so we begin to facilitate people’s desire to make things more convenient for themselves. That is not to say that everyone using a placard who’s mobility isn’t significantly impaired, or isn’t in a wheelchair, is intentionally abusing the system, but it is to say that the system has been modified to its own detriment and people naturally gravitate toward the extended privilege.
And there is a devious result of this parking privilege, as well, and it’s almost a “duh” when it comes to human nature. We all hate looking for parking, we all hate parking far away, and it is universally satisfying to find a parking space closer to the door (unless you’re like me and don’t want dings).
“So,” the human impulse to self-serve says to itself, “If I ‘borrowed’ a handicapped placard, I could park next to the stadium entrance or at the grocery store, and it’s legal!” http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Abuse-of-disabled-placards-free-parking-persists-3684755.php
There is an equally powerful trend that takes place, as well, that resides on the opposite end of the spectrum of human desires; many people take a good cause and widen it to include more and more people. Good, noble intentions do this because it’s compassionate, kind, and often correct, but it can also diminishes the intention of the original cause.
This essay started after I observed something and shared it on Facebook to lively and mixed reactions. I was walking from the grocery store to my car in a crowded lot and as I walked by a car in a handicapped parking space, a mother and her daughter, jogged to the car, and jumped toward the doors. I’ve seen people misuse parking tags before, I even have a friend in a wheelchair who has voiced his frustration when all the spaces are filled (“I hardly ever see other people in the store who can’t walk,” he notes), and I’ve heard several people share their disgust about clear cases of “Placard Fraud.”
And so I shook my head at the mother just as she glanced up to see me. She then pulled her placard off of her rear view mirror and said to me in a highly sarcastic manner, “I have a handicapped tag, so there!”
I’m not a person who pays only casual attention to human behavior and I received her belligerent tone as someone who was caught in the act of cheating. Should someone who clearly has no physical handicap that requires assistance be surprised if they are questioned?
Sure, people react differently, as my own challengers have pointed out; a person can react any number of different ways for any number of different reasons, but usually people who are guilty….act exactly as she did.
My Achilles heel is arrogant entitlement from people who think they are above the common sense statutes the rest of us should follow, and I returned her volley.
“What is your handicap? “I asked. “Is it mental?”
She called me a jerk (which I deserved for being flippant with “mental”) and sped off. I could further my proof of this person’s self-entitlement by pointing out her speed through a crowded parking lot, but maybe she suffers immeasurably from Heavy Foot Syndrome.
I posted this experience on Facebook because I like using social media to start a conversation. My hope is always that a good thread could get into the right hands or that a critical mass could be reached to where the topic transcends my little Facebook page. Quickly, I received a “Thumb’s Up” from friend after friend, and very early in the thread I mentioned (cynically) that the “bleeding hearts will soon come out to defend the woman by saying that she may very well have a handicap (or her daughter),” but that I wasn’t going to back down from what every ounce of perceptivity I have, told me was fraud.
“I am appalled by your insensitivity!”
“How can you judge that she didn’t have an affliction you couldn’t see?”
(I don’t know…the jumping, maybe?)
Great people, all of them. Most were the kind of liberals I adore, the ones who would raise awareness for People Who Suffer From Excessive Navel Lint, if you asked them to, but they were incensed by my “insensitivity” and couldn’t believe that I hadn’t considered the daughter’s possible “invisible” handicap.
“I’ll bet she was protecting her daughter so that she wouldn’t be embarrassed,” wrote one.
Well….she’s all too willing to hang a sign in the window that says ‘Handicapped’…and nothing else would have called attention to the young woman…so….maybe….this has nothing to do with protecting anyone’s feelings.
The conversation quickly took the same turns that can be frustrating in political debates; the point is always lost in the conflicting agendas.
The agenda of my “opposition” was that disabled people are being discriminated against by unfair judgments such as mine. They kept to their agenda to inform me, and anyone who also believes that abuse of the parking ordinance should be stopped, that there are myriad of disabilities and that all people with a disability should be entitled to the parking convenience. It also became their purpose to let me know that I was rude by not considering that one of them probably had an unseen disability that qualified them for the parking tag.
Even when I pointed out that, perhaps, their use of the space could be causing someone in a wheelchair or someone who experiences pain to have to park farther away, they did not buckle.
Even when I pointed out that it was their athletic movement, and the young girl’s leap to her door that caught my attention and started this “judgment.”
Nothing I offered was compelling enough to them to consider that the intention of handicapped parking was for people who couldn’t do such things. And that by extending this to everyone who might fall under the umbrella of a helpful ordinance, we lose its intention and open the door for misuse, even fraud; which, in turn, hurts the people the law was designed to protect.
But sides get drawn and the argument becomes about the opposing agendas and not the problem itself. There are many kinds of disabilities, some are obvious, some are not, some are physical, some are mental, some are both or none of the above. All should be given equal attention from a compassionate society, but no progress is made if we offer the same solutions to different challenges.
Handicapped parking was an effort to shorten the distance from a vehicle to an entrance so that people who cannot walk without pain or assistance would not have to walk as far. It was not intended as a valentine to all disabled people. That, in fact, is what would be insulting, and that is where the Facebook dialogue digressed.
I wasn’t diminishing the struggle of people’s handicaps that are not evidenced by wheelchairs or with canes, rather I stand with supporting appropriate actions so that the intentions of one provision don’t compromise another. Simply put, if someone in a wheelchair is denied a place to park because someone who has no trouble running to their car, but perhaps has narcolepsy, parked there, then intent was not served.
There is another aspect to this, as well, and it rumbles at the core of this “controversy.” And that is the fact that it is undeniable that people abuse the handicapped parking system. Several people (and I can offer this evidence, as well) know people who put a relative’s tag in their car so that they can park closer.
The arrogance of selfish entitlement; of people who think that rules only apply to others, galls me. It is my Achilles heel that I mentioned earlier in this rant. I will take the occasional lumps for the times when I may have been wrong, but I will not be an idle and passive citizen who allows abuse to happen in front of me.
In the words of Elie Wiesel: “Whoever witnesses an atrocity and does nothing to stop is just as guilty as the one committing it.”