By Lynn Ashby 25 October 2010
THE PARKING LOT – It is raining and windy, and the lot is full, so I hunt around until I spot an open space just this side of Pampa, park, then race through the elements to the store. In front of the entrance are several empty slots, noted by their blue stick-man-in-circle which indicates these spaces are reserved for the handicapped.
As I am running by, a young woman pulls into one of these choice spots. Her privileged status must be legal because she has a blue handicapped tag hanging from her rearview mirror. She pops out of the car and races into the store like a Jamaican Olympic sprinter. To add insult to perjury, she is wearing a jogging outfit.
I am sorely tempted to hunt her down and ask, “Lady, just how handicapped are you?” But I would probably find her in the fitting room semi-nude, she would scream, I would be arrested and handcuffed by an off-duty constable and end up on the 10 o’clock news: “The long-sought serial pervert was caught today in the Sprawl-Mart peeking into women’s dressing rooms. Connie Bonnie Sue has that story with tape from a security camera we can easily see his face that…”
People, healthy and hearty (or hardy) who park in disabled parking slots should be sentenced to three hours of “The Wit and Wisdom of Harry Reid” or forced to listen to Pat Buchanan shouting down Bill O’Reilly in HD. You and I obey the law on such matters (incomes taxes are another situation completely), so why is it that a few people think the law is for other people? These are the same blackguards who didn’t re-wind their rented VCR tapes, refuse to turn off their cell phones in theaters and, despite the plaintive plea of the little sign on the wall, don’t wipe out the sink in an airplane restroom after using.
This disregard clearly annoys a lot of people. Recently Annys Shin of the Washington Post ran a story about abusers of handicapped parking, and was inundated with callers and e-mails wanting firm action – like beheading – for the scofflaws. Shin began her article with the tale of Martena Clinton of Maryland whose Lexus went missing for 24 hours after Secret Service moved it during a nearby appearance by President Obama. She said she had parked the car in a handicapped space using her husband’s placard. Poor Martena got no sympathy from Post readers.
Families have been known to pass permits down as if they were heirlooms. Thieves covet them: Last year, 19-year-old Thais Miller of suburban DC was arrested for stealing placards from cars. He ignored global positioning systems and stereos to grab permits which he could sell for $50 each.
Shin reported that a 2007 investigation in the Boston area discovered, of nearly 1,000 placards observed, about a third appeared to be in use by someone other than the handicapped driver. Forty-nine were registered to people who had since died, including nine that were renewed after the person’s death. A 2004 sampling by Seattle officials found that more than 75 percent of disabled placards were being used improperly.
Texas has more than 4-million handicapped people. In the greater Houston area alone there are more than half a million citizens with disabilities and more than 300,000 residing within the city limits. Approximately 60,000 handicapped parking permits are issued per year in Houston, but a percentage of these are renewals. Depending on the type of your disability, you may be issued either a temporary or a permanent placard. The temporary placard is valid for up to six months. The permanent placard is good for up to four years. Or you may receive disabled license plates, which I find very hard to remove.
The number of accessible parking spaces is governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law passed in July 1990, and are also covered in the Texas state law under Texas Architectural Accessibility Standards. In Texas, fines for abusing the disability-only slots range from $550 to $$1,250 for multi-violators, plus community service. This crime is not real high on cops’ priorities, but Maryland police have done two sweeps this year and easily found dozens of permit abusers. Also, just because some people don’t appear disabled doesn’t mean they are not suffering from MS, arthritis, heart disease or other health conditions that affect their ability to walk across the parking lot.
Some towns have trained volunteers who go around sticking a little leaflet under the windshield wiper of offending cars. It’s not a legal ticket, just a note explaining that this is a parking slot reserved for those with disabilities. The Texas state agency that deals with such matters suggests to avoid violence: “It is recommended that the reminders be used only when a vehicle is not occupied to protect the safety of all concerned.” A good idea. You don’t want to be chased across the asphalt by a widow in a walker.
Of course, some towns get a tad testy. Here’s a windshield wiper notice I particularly like: “As you have parked in a disabled parking space, but have not displayed your Disability Parking Placard, please complete the following as it applies to you.” The notice then lists such choices to check off as: “Sorry, I forgot my Disability Parking Placard.” “I’m an idiot & enjoy making disabled people struggle.” “I’m just lazy and couldn’t be bothered to walk.” “I want to be disabled and am just practicing.” “The voices in my head told me to park here.”
As for that young woman who jogged from her parking slot reserved for the handicapped into the store, I hope she gets into the check-out line behind me – me with the wrong size sock purchase that needs exchanging, the missing credit card, where are those coupons? and oh, I wanted a blue dog muzzle, not black. Hold my stuff. I’ll be right back. Then I’ll limp away.
Ashby parks illegally at firstname.lastname@example.org