That handicapped placard

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/03/05 13:31 -05:00, original URI:

A year ago I asked What's up with handicapped parking in WA state?

And a few days ago I asked What's up with handicapped parking everywhere?

A person with the nick 'Jimbo' made a comment that stirred up some people:

The only thing that bothers me more than seeing non-handicapped-tagged cars parked in handicapped spaces is seeing the opposite.  In an absolutely packed parking lot I watched as the car in front of me (with handicapped tags) pulled just past the handicapped space and into the last remaining non-handicapped space.  Inconsideration knows no bounds.

For example, Yaytay suggested:

Recommendation for those upset about handicapped people parking outside of designated parking spaces: take a bus.
The reason there aren't enough parking spaces is because too many people drive.

<Steps down off high horse....>

And Incredulous suggested:

Can handicapped people park in non-handicapped spaces?  Of course!  I'm not sure why anyone here would even attempt to argue otherwise.

This is not some statute designed to allocate scarce resources between two competitive groups of stakeholders.  To be outraged that a handicapped person would have the nerve to take YOUR non-handicapped space!  Good god!  What has the world come to?

Handicapped spots are society's attempt to make life more livable for the many who require small accessibility concessions.  We accommodate those with handicaps, because we would certainly hope to be accommodated if we were in their shoes/wheels.

I mentioned I wanted to think about it a bit. The way I see it, There are two possible interpetations of Jimbo's post:

1) It could have been a joke, like when one talks about how hard it is to buy "tuna safe dolphin" as one should not have to make the innocent tuna suffer when one is buying one's canned dolphin. If so, I suppose the joke may or may not be funny to a person, depending on how personally one takes the "attacked" resource. I like to think I am a reasonable enough person to understand the humor even in the situations where I do myself find it to be funny.

2) It could have been serious, in which case I think outrage may be situational. I mean, in the mall if there are 10 open handicapped spots and one non-handicapped spot, and someone with a pass takes that one non-handicapped spot, it is easy to feel outraged if you are looking for a parking spot. And I think I can understand that feeling, even if I may not agree with it.

Assuming that even if it was not #2 that some people may feel that way, it got me thinking....

I mean, I used to have a pass when I lived in Connecticut. At that point, I was walking with a cane maybe 20% of the time (if that often, even), even though I was having trouble with distance either way.

And I found that when people would see an apparently healthy man in his 20s in a handicapped space they would assume I was either (a) there illegally, or (b) using a pass without a need. This was not paranoia, mind you -- on two occasions good citizens who were outraged at my 'crime' accosted me on the street -- once with friends of mine in my car, if memory serves. I lost my temper and yelled back at him a bit about his obnoxious presumption.

And there were times since then where I would use the cane even if I did not need it because although people might have the same initial reaction as my rude comrade, they mentally adjust when they see the cane and at least they do not start trying a citizen's arrest on me or anything....

I can't say I ever felt comfortable doing that, though if I reasoned that if I have to choose between silent (or sometimes murmured) undeserved pity and (sometimes vocal) outrage, the former is at least less confrontational....

On the other hand, it was perhaps a year ago I was upset that the two handicapped spaces in front of Building 33 were taken by cars that did not have passes hanging from the rearview window (it turned out they were sitting flat on the dashboard, something that embarrassed me at the time, though it is a method I have actually used myself since then as a way to defend against forgetting to hang the pass up when I park).

Since then I on three occasions had people leave notes on my car (the most polite of which said "if you're not handicapped then you're a jerk!") when they clearly were expressing the same feelings of outrage that I felt when I thought someone was parking illegally (and which I do tend to feel when someone is).

The truth is that the handicapped placard and the parking spaces, like other programs that attempt to level the playing field for current sitautions or former limitations (e.g. affirmative action or equal opportunity) lead to setting up a gulf, where potential resentment, anger, prejudice, pity, or bad feelings can exist on both sides of the gulf -- whether justified or not.

And since there is no way to instantly transmit (to anyone who sees the situation) the entire history leading up to it, there is really no way to completely avoid the problem.

Going back to the two possible interpretations of Jimbo's post, perhaps it clarifies why I don't personally think it was very funny (though I can see why others might). There is just too much wrapped up in the whole mess, for me.

It is too easy for me to see both reactions these days (outrage at this apparently healthy man getting out of his car that he illegally parked, followed by guilt/pity as they see me put together my scooter immediately after.

The people I like best are the ones who have none of that going on, and who take me for me and not for any accidents of medicine....

# Moz on 5 Mar 2006 5:55 PM:

it's one of those tricky things. I have friends (some who, like you, can walk short  distances) who have managed to get handicapped spaces outside their houses (no offstreet parking) who constantly battle to actually use those spaces due to asshat parking, so I tend to notice the no-label parkers. Sydney also has widespread rorting of the label system, with doctors certifying people whose only handicap is sociopathy. Which means that when I see someone apparently able-bodied using a disabled space I tend to ask them why (politely). Those who tell me to... "go away" I assume are sociopaths and ring the parking wardens. At least the parking wardens are pretty good except with the misallocated labels.

# Victor Lee on 5 Mar 2006 11:19 PM:

"pulled just past the handicapped space and into the last remaining non-handicapped space"

I showed this to my sister and she brought up a good point: Maybe the peson with the handicapped tag felt 'Hey you know, my handicap is really not that bad, I'd like to save this handicap spot for someone worse off than me'

Since the parking lot was full, it stands to reason that the handicapped spots there would be even more precious, so that if those were taken up, the most disabled people would have to park in an adjacent lot, making it much harder for them. Thus, it might have been an act of courtesy and not "Inconsideration [that] knows no bounds"

# Victor Lee on 5 Mar 2006 11:22 PM:

This situation can also be compared to Carpool Lanes. I often get really annoyed when I see some driving in a Carpool (HOV) lane all alone, until I get a closer look and see that they have a toddler inside or something. However, I don't particularly get mad when I see cars with multiple people (qualifying for the Carpool Lane) but driving in a normal lane...

I'd wonder what 'Jimbo' feels about that situation. Because technically, driving in a non carpool lane when you dont have to congests that lane for the rest of us...

# Michael S. Kaplan on 5 Mar 2006 11:34 PM:

Hi Victor,

I have to admit that there were many days that I would definitely not use the placard (and there was a several year lapse after the CT one expired before I got a new WA one -- mainly because I felt that things were stable and I could do without it).

Luckily it was not visible when I was not using it, so no one knew to be mad at me, back then? :-)

# Gabe on 6 Mar 2006 8:26 AM:

Just out of curiosity here, why would you need a handicapped space if you have a scooter? Presumably you don't have to propel yourself anywhere, so why would you need to park any closer than anybody else?

Why are blind people allowed to get placards (at least in Ohio)? It's not like they need to park close because it's easier for them to find the door, since they aren't allowed to drive anyway.

Why do places like malls and large department stores even need handicapped parking spaces? The walking one usually does inside the store is much more than the amount it takes to get to the mall from your car, so presumably somebody who can't walk an extra 200 feet wouldn't be going there anyway.

How come people with big, heavy baby strollers don't get special parking? They have a harder time walking than the rest of us and also need access to ramps.

# Ben Bryant on 6 Mar 2006 11:28 AM:

"pulled just past the handicapped space and into the last remaining non-handicapped space"

Obviously, someone without a handicap could be borrowing the car, duh! I am amazed you even give the person getting outraged over this a second's consideration. He is just using it as an excuse to find fault with handicapped parking in general, which only very very small minded people do.

This attitude toward handicapped parking stems from an infantile notion that if those spots up front were not reserved then there would be more available spots up front. But a single moment of adult reflection will tell you that if the spots up front were not reserved, then they would have been filled by cars there before you anyway just as the unreserved ones are.

# Jimbo on 6 Mar 2006 12:35 PM:

My post was serious but since it is hard to express the degree of feeling on the internet it may have come off as more angry than just annoyed.  I certainly won’t pretend that my having to walk further is equivalent to someone with a handicap having to do the same.  I would like to believe that even if there weren’t designated handicap spots that I would be courteous (and aware) enough to leave those spaces available for someone who genuinely needed them.  I guess in my situation it felt like not only an inconvenience but a sort of throwing that intended courtesy back in my face.  Overreaction?  Probably.  I think the point about their possible intention to help out someone with an even greater handicap is excellent and reinforces the fact that we make a lot of assumptions about people we don’t know anything about.
As far as car pool lanes go, I do think that if you can use them you should.  I don’t know much about how those systems work and what the convenience/inconvenience of getting in and out of those lanes is so that could be a factor too.

# Ben Bryant on 6 Mar 2006 1:44 PM:

Gabe, if you look inside yourself to find the source of these questions, you may find something you don't like. The lack of generosity able-bodied people feel towards others is really upsetting.

One point that may answer a couple of your questions is that the distances traveled in a parking lot are different than within a mall because of the hazards of a parking lot like going behind cars that may pull out, and fitting between cars. People with difficulties getting around may be truly in danger getting across that parking lot, while it is easy for the rest of us.

There are attempts to help people likely to have strollers, expecting and new mothers etc by reserving spaces that depend on peoples' courtesy.

I for one will never ever bear any ill-will towards the reserved handicap spaces, no matter what imperfections people find with them.

p.s. cheers to those at pentagon North parking!

# Carlos on 6 Mar 2006 2:04 PM:

Gabe: On the off chance you're not just a troll, here goes.

Even though someone might have a scooter, and therefore might be able to cover the extra distance from a standard parking space, crossing a parking lot in a slowish vehicle that is below the rooflines of many vehicles is pretty dangerous.  Also, scooters need extra space to set up and manuever, which handicapped spots are designed to provide. That much should be obvious.

Just as obvious should be the fact that if a blind person is getting a ride somewhere, it would be better for them if they didn't have to cross the whole parking lot.

For many people, those last 200 feet might as well be a mile.  By providing those spots, malls, etc. permit those people to access those sites and ultimately, spend their money there.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 6 Mar 2006 5:56 PM:

Carlos covered a lot of how I would have responded to Gabe's comment, and Ben Bryant covered a lot of how I would have liked to have responded.

To all that I will add that sometimes I try to go without the scooter -- I lived for over three decades without it, and I was walking for the bulk of that time. But I know I cannot always do that now. Add to that the fact that the range of that Go-Go is up to 10 miles on flat ground (shich ground never is!) and there are times that scooting the length of several football fields would leave me stranded so I cannot do it gratuitously.

Now often if there is a non-handicapped space that is just as close or nearly so I will take IT instead, which may piss off somone like Jimbo but as even Gabe pointed out, I am not as handicapped as I was now that I have the scooter.

I look forward to my next trip out to Washington D.C. to see where they let me into and what kind of searching they do of thescooter prior to entry. :-)

# Alun Jones on 7 Mar 2006 12:32 PM:

As regards the comments about special parking for parents with strollers, I'll note that I've gratefully taken advantage of several such spots, usually set up outside baby clothing stores, supermarkets, and the like.  They really help when you have to unpack a child and a stroller before you can even start to make your way across the car park.  What I did find sadly lacking were baby changing facilities in men's restrooms.  My view was - if there's room to put up bars for a handicapped-accessible stall, there's room to hang a changing mat that swings down from the wall.
The guys I reserve special ire for are those people that park in the hashed area between two handicapped parking spots.  A moment's thought from these people would allow them to understand what those spaces are reserved for, and why, without those spaces being clear, some people can't use the adjacent parking space at all, and may have to move on to the next non-handicapped space.

# Gabe on 8 Mar 2006 7:01 AM:

I wasn't trying to judge, I just thought there were some valid questions to think about.

Michael talked about how he often got to go through the "handicapped" line at the airport when he had his scooter (and didn't mind being in long lines), but not when he had his cain (and long lines were painful). This got me wondering about parking, too. Perhaps you would take the handicapped spot because it would be helpful, or perhaps you might leave it open for those who might not have scooters because the scooter makes you less dependent on being close. Or maybe it depends on how close you are to a ramp or curb-cut?

If a driver is dropping off a blind person, they don't need to park. If they are parking, the driver can just guide the blind person.  I don't disagree with the idea that parking lots can be hazardous to the blind or otherwise disabled, but the same arguments can be made for small children, pets, pregnant women, the elderly, or those with inadequate footwear in the winter.

Let's say, hypothetically, that you are picking up your disabled grandmother from her doctor's appointment. This being a medical facility, all of the nearby parking is handicapped. Since you are just picking her up you don't have access to the placard in her purse, so you have to park out in the boonies. In this case, all those hundreds of handicapped spots that are in that parking lot (ostensibly for her benefit) only serve to make her have to walk that much farther.

Perhaps we shouldn't all be so quick to judge, hmm?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 8 Mar 2006 9:53 AM:

Hi Gabe,

In practice, there are many cases where you are simply wrong. Are you asking valid questions? Maybe. But the truth is that smply do not see the scenarios.

If my grandmother needs to go somewhere, my father can drive her there and she needs to be close to the destination and cannot walk very far. He can then help her in. He does not even hang the placard unless she is there, but if he is, it is very helpful. Since she was able to walk further when she was younger, I guess you see that the elderly can also end up with a placard....

She is not blind, but if she were then the same logic would apply and it would be helpful for her, and him.

There are times that pregnant women do end up with a pass temporarily. Those with inadequate footwear may have a tougher time convincing a doctor to sign anything but you never know. If you consider smasll childfen or pets to be a handicap then it make sense to question whether parenting is your thing, if you know what I mean....

As for quickness to judge, I think that I have made it clear that things are not always as they appear, and that if you assume someone is using a placard inappropriately then you are probably mistaken and that you are likely being insensitive to the needs of others.

# Danny on 8 Nov 2007 10:45 AM:

"The guys I reserve special ire for are those people that park in the hashed area between two handicapped parking spots."

I have seen this situation happen a lot recently at the Walmart stores. The ones that are doing this are the ones who dont have any type of handicapped tag whatsoever. I confronted the greeter one time about this. He said that this is private property. Nobody can enforce the handicapped parking. I think this is hogwash. That space is there for a reason. And not for someone who is too lazy to walk the extra few feet they have to walk.

SouSou on 22 May 2009 10:53 PM:

If you use a handicapped parking placard, check out this device called "VisorTag" at this site "". It holds and protects your placard, and clips to the visor. It is a great invention for people who use the tags. You no longer need to hang and remove your tag, you simply swing it down when you park, and fold it back when you drive. It magnetically latch into a stored position out of your view when you drive. It protects and preserves your tag, and you never lose it because it is always inside its clear and durable frame and no need to remove it.

Apartment Manager on 22 Jun 2010 3:02 PM:

We have a 36 unit apt building in WA state, we are required to have only 1 handicapped spot, it is signed and people are pretty good about only using it if they have the handicapped placard for their car. We do remind those who don't, that it is for handicapped only. However we have the most problem with the people who are authorized to use the spot. We have about 4 people who are either in wheelchairs or use walkers and a couple who have a bad knee or hip so have the placard. a couple of these folks think it is their private parking spot, even though they have an assigned spot.It is difficult to make people who have a placard understand that they need to share that one spot with everyone else in the building who has one and their guests also. I have heard of some communities who restrict the length of time to 4 hours in that spot per vehicle per day, don't know if that is legal but we are thinking of that sort of signage. A couple of the folks need help getting in and out of their car and that spot is the best for them to transfer in and out, but that doesn't seem to bother the guy with a bad knee who likes to perma park there.

And on a personal note, I have gone into the bathrooms at a mall or other stores and been yelled at by handicapped people for using "their" stall, when they were no where to be seen when I came in and it was the only stall open. I don't use it otherwise, a little courtesy on both sides would certainly go a long way to lessen tensions about all of this sort of thing. I am glad to think if I have an injury or illness that forces me into a wheelchair, that I would be able to park relatively close to the door of a shopping mall or grocery store, and might actually be able to use the bathroom by myself if necessary!

Michael S. Kaplan on 22 Jun 2010 4:32 PM:

If you have four people who need it who always have to park in the lot, then ignoring the law's "minimums" perhaps opening up more spaces or making sure their spaces are nearer to the door is the right thing?

referenced by

2007/12/02 A whole heap o' handicapped parking issues I've been saving up

2007/11/03 It is quite ironic how irony can be so ironic, sometimes

go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day