The Importance of a Disabled Bay & How Companies Should React to Employees’ Ableism

In 2018, I found an FS Systems vehicle illegally parked in a disabled bay on the University of Cape Town’s campus. After posting this on my Twitter account, FS Systems were quick to respond and condemned their employee’s actions. Since then, the company’s response has made me realise the importance of social responsibility.

‘It’s a parking space, chill everyone’

Regardless of who we are, we all know the frustration of trying to find a parking space.

While disabled bays have a specific purpose, it’s worth remembering that they are, after all, just parking spaces. For people to get overly angry at the fact a bay is taken, even if it’s by someone who has no ‘right’ to it, is a bit melodramatic. Life’s too short to lose whole hours drafting blog posts about it. What’s far more important to address than ‘Healthy, abled Joe Bloggs stole my spot’ is the ideology that either directly or indirectly went into Joe’s decision to park there. All drivers would, at some point, have encountered the disabled bay as a concept and seen that it was designated to a specific group of people for presumably legitimate, concrete reasons. To know the ‘role’ of The Disabled Bay, as all drivers would have known at some point, and to still park there illegitimately is to ignore the reasons for their existence. Joe’s ‘justification’ for parking where he shouldn’t be challenged, not his parking.

‘It’s just parking. Nothing to do with ideology’

Not quite.

There is concrete justification behind the existence of The Disabled Bay. They exist to reduce the amount of physical stress on a disabled person in navigating particular scenarios as well as making their navigation safer. Whether the logic behind them is not necessarily known to every driver, for Joe Bloggs to know their justification and elect to ignore it, suggests that Mr Bloggs ultimately deems the Disabled Community to be of little consequence and undeserving of an equal shot at social interaction. In essence, for one to be aware of the need of disabled bays and ignore a disabled person’s need of them is just another symptom of society’s engrained ableism.

‘Disabled bays are good delivery spaces, their nearer and wider’

Yes, disabled bays are generally nearer to a building’s entrance and are generally wider than the average parking bay. 

Considering that only 15% of the world’s population (one billion people) are disabled as of 26 September 2018 according to The World Bank, disabled people are by far the minority. It is perfectly correct, then, for the world to be designed around the 85% non-disabled, ‘normal’ people. That said, the abled society offers problems for the disabled minority that cannot be ignored. Perhaps most obvious of these is height.

Wheelchair-users, in particular, are (surprise, surprise) often shorter than the average abled-bodied person, or ‘Normal.’ Although many disabled people and wheelchair-users drive, it’s worth remembering that the height of cars was designed for the Normal. Given that wheelchair-users are physically lower than the average Normal, the fact is they are often not easy to spot in cars, particularly from the large, Toyota Fortuner-type cars. Wheelchair-users and other disabled people, then, are at a far higher risk of being hit by drivers. An easy, realistic solution to this problem, then, is to reduce the amount of time a wheelchair-user has to spend in the ‘danger zone’ of busy parking lots. Disabled bays, then, are often nearer to entrances as it decreases their time in those ‘danger zones.’ Similarly, their proximity reduces the distances someone with walking difficulties has to travel to get from an entrance to their car.

A well-designed disabled bay is wider for similar reasons: it gives adequate, necessary, useable space. I don’t know of a single disabled person (myself included) who would use a wheelchair/walking aid by choice. Even the lightest and narrowest of them is still relatively cumbersome. They’re also something we can just ‘elect’ not to use as they (to use a Normal’s language) our only means of locomotion. Disabled bays are wider, then, to allow the wheelchair to come alongside the vehicle so that wheelchair-users can actually leave their cars.

Given that a well-designed disabled bay would be closer and offering more space, it’s not surprising that delivery drivers use them, they are easier. All too often, I know of companies (or their representative drivers) ignore the Disabled Community’s need of designated parking spaces precisely because of their convenience. When I engage companies on this, I often receive lip-service to the effect of ‘yes, we agree, it’s terrible. The driver will be dealt with’ and then never hearing anything about active change.

’So What Makes FS Systems Special?’

In the years of dealing with delivery drivers and organisations, including the South African Postal Service, FS Systems were the first to go beyond the meaningless lip-service. Within hours of my tweet about their driver’s behaviour, they publicly condemned their driver’s activity and promised to take action – as almost all of them did. Where they differed was their apology. In addition to dealing with the driver and public condemnation of illegitimate use of disabled bays, they provided the University of Cape Town’s Disability Unit a free fire evacuation chair as a symbol of their support not only of the university’s disabled population but of the Disabled Community generally. 

To be honest, after I received their message about donating a key piece of equipment to UCT, I was a tad cynical that anything would actually materialise. I’m glad I was wrong. FS Systems kept to their word and handed over the chair to the Unit. 

Strictly speaking, it was one of FS’s employees who took the decision to park illegally in a disabled bay. The company themselves were not at fault. FS System’s decision to not only come out publicly against this kind of behaviour but to donate products by way of reparation was unexpected while not unwelcome. 

FS Systems took an active decision to take responsibility for the actions of one of their employees and make good on a fault that they themselves did not commit. Rather than letting this kind of behaviour be implicitly condoned, they assumed responsibility and took concrete, public steps to repair the situation. It’s a bit sad that I have to say this makes FS Systems unique by comparison with the other companies I’ve had dealings within South Africa but it is what it is. 

I commend FS Systems and their Management Team for their reaction to this and thank them once again for their response. I hope other organisations learn from their example.

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