Disabled Parking: Small Incident, Big Ideological Problem

Maybe it’s just me but I like to think that people are not intentionally vindictive beings who set out to make other people’s lives more difficult but, the reality is, that it happens far more than we’d like to admit. From a wheelchair-user’s perspective, one of the ways I see this happening a lot is in disregard for Disabled Parking Bays.

I don’t know how many times I’ve come across Disabled Bays being used illegally. To be honest, it is difficult to understand exactly why this is so common giving how aware a lot of societies are on other issues. Is it that people don’t understand why they exist? Don’t they care? Yes, something like “he’s in my spot” is trivial but I still think it is worth condemning the action as it speaks to the larger issue that is Ableism.

While it is a requirement in several countries that parking areas have allocated Disabled Parking, I don’t think the reasoning behind their existence is adequately explained if at all. In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons for their existence: Safety and Access.

Reasons for a Disabled Bay’s Existence

Safety

I’m sure it goes without saying that, in most cases, wheelchair-users are lower than the average, ambulatory person by the very fact that they are seated. The height difference, in a parking scenario, can lead to potential dangers. To put it frankly, it is harder for drivers to see us.

Part of the reason Disabled Bays are often close to the entrances in a lot of places is to help combat the risk of not being seen by drivers but immobility also plays a role. Since physical disabilities often mean that your mobility is compromised, the proximity of Disabled Bays help to reduce the distances those with mobility issues have to travel thereby making it more accessible.

Access

While proximity is important for disabled bays, so too is width. So often in Cape Town I’ve found parking bays that are ‘disabled bays’ simply by the presence of some yellow lines and a blue sign. What a lot of people don’t seem to realise is that disabled bays should be wider than the standard width of parking bays. Why? Wheelchairs.

Wheelchairs, by nature, take up more space than a ‘normal’ person would when standing. While you do not sit in your chair in most cases, the fact that you are not physically in the wheelchair does not negate the physical space that the chair occupies. The reason, then, that disabled bays are (or should be) wider than the average bay is to allow for a wheelchair-user to be able to bring their chair alongside the vehicle so that they might be able to transfer. After all, it’s not like a wheelchair-user can get out of the car, walk to the back and take the chair out the boot. While proximity is a common trait among disabled bays, at least in Cape Town, I would rather walk that little bit further if I had adequate space to move the chair around next to my car.

The Larger Issue

I’ve come across situations where those who park illegally in bays try to defend their actions with things like “I’ll only be a minute” or “I’m in the car so I’d be able to move if anyone actually needed it.” Why this makes me so angry is for one simple fact: how am I supposed to know? Stop my car, get out, and investigate why they did it? Perhaps, it all boils down to misunderstanding. It is the misunderstanding that makes parking violations like this symptomatic of the larger issue.

Sure, I understand that no-one can know everything and it is unrealistic for me to expect that. What makes me angry, though, is when people are informed that they can’t do something and are told why (like they are on signs and in Learners Tests) only to do it anyway. If it was done by mistake for some or other reason, that’s forgivable but if it is deliberate the game changes.

While a parking spot might be trivial in the grand scheme of things, the ‘I don’t care’ attitude that so often goes hand-in-hand with deliberate disobedience like that is more worrying. If someone deems the reasons for the existence of disabled bays as ‘inadequate’ (thereby acceptable to disregard) what does that say about other measures put in place to improve the lives of disabled people? If we disregard Disabled Bays, how long will it be until we begin to disregard other efforts to make society a more equal environment?Are we (as disabled people), like Jerry Lewis suggested, unworthy of a ‘normal’ day-to-day existence in society whereby we can go about our lives?

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