Last summer, I had the unique opportunity to experience what it was like to have to depend on using a handicapped-parking permit. Recovery from ACL and meniscus surgery was slow and resulted in not being able to put any weight on my left leg for four weeks.
That meant I had to park in a handicapped spot if I had any hope of getting where I was going on time and feeling good.
It was during this time that I started to notice how many folks use these spots either illegally or unnecessarily. I saw firsthand how two different groups of folks operate, particularly at the grocery store where there seems to be a plethora of handicapped parking opportunities.
On several occasions, I drove in circles through the grocery parking lot waiting for a space to open. I saw some drivers who pulled into these strategically placed spots, not even pretending they had a physical reason to park there. I’m sure it resulted from the thought that they only had one or two things to buy and would be right back. Or maybe they thought that since there are so many handicapped parking spaces, using just one wouldn’t be a big deal.
Then there was the group of folks who obviously used either an old permit or one that belonged to a loved one who truly needed it. I know from hearing people talk that some consider it no big deal to “borrow” their grandma or grandpa’s permit so they don’t have to walk. Some even think it’s funny.
More than once this summer, I had to park farther out than I could comfortably handle because every single handicapped spot at the store was taken. So you can imagine my frustration while sitting on the bench in the foyer of Meijer, my leg propped up to stop the throb, at seeing a healthy woman easily pushing a cart full of groceries to her car parked in the first spot directly outside the east entrance to the store. I’m sure she thought she deserved it and perhaps went so far as to think she’d scored a real bonus.
What she probably didn’t think twice about or possibly even care about was that she likely bumped someone with physical challenges, who had spent their entire morning getting ready for their weekly trip to the store, to a more inconvenient spot.
I don’t usually find myself on a soapbox. But when I think about how difficult it made my life last summer, which was just a blip in time, I can only imagine the frustration and anger folks who deal with this challenge every day must feel. It’s just plain wrong. If you see the blue sign with the stick figure sitting in a wheelchair and you don’t need it, don’t park your car there. It’s as simple as that.
Julie Stafford is publisher of The Daily News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (616) 548-8260.