Living with multiple sclerosis, Learning to make the world accessible, Loving life with all of its challenges

Social Justice

The Handicap Parking Spot – It’s Not For Everyone!

“Is this your car?” I ask the lady who is unlocking and opening the door to the BMW parked in the handicap parking spot. “I just don’t see your handicap plates or placard. Thought you might have forgot to put it up.”

The lady takes a quick look at Dre, limping up the sidewalk with his cane from the parking spot further down.

Flustered, she shakes her head and slams the door to the car. “No. It’s not mine.”

I raise my eyebrows and before I can get out the obvious – I mean, really, she has the keys and is in the car – she states, “it’s the team mom’s car.” 

The team mom. Of course. She must be important. 

handicap parking spot sign

“Oh.” I reply. “Is she handicapped?” 

“She’s bringing sandwiches.” The woman stammers. 

“Sandwiches. But is she handicapped?” I ask again.

The woman she is with, who’s been quietly watching the exchange, turns and darts for the door to the cheerleading gym we are going to for a theme party for our niece’s birthday. 

The woman I’m talking to shakes her head, starting to shake, like she’s angry at me about the whole thing. Then she turns and runs after her friend, mumbling something under her breath. 

In the meantime Dre continues making his way to the front door, navigating every step to make sure he doesn’t trip over the cracks and crevices in the sidewalk.

Sandwiches are not a handicap. Neither is entitlement

The tiny lobby holding the check-in counter is crammed full of parents and cheerleaders. Dre and I make our way through the crowd to fill out the waivers we need to get in the gym so we can go to the birthday party.

I’m trying to remain calm, I’ve been known to wear my emotions on much more than my sleeve, and I’m seeing red after the exchange in the parking lot. I can’t simply let it slide, but I also can’t take my anger out on the teenage girls running the counter. 

Dre hasn’t said anything, yet. I am the more vocal of the two of us, but I know him well enough to know he’s furious. 

Completing the paperwork, I push it across the counter to the girl and finally get her to make eye contact with me. 

“Is everything ok?” she asks, glancing at Dre, “we just have to have everyone sign the waiver, even if you’re not going to use the equipment.” 

So she knows I’m, angry, but thinks it’s because we have to sign a waiver when it’s pretty obvious we’re not going to be doing flips on the tumbling mats.

“We don’t have a problem with the waiver.” I say, keeping my voice even, but there’s an edge to it. “The car parked in the handicap spot apparently belongs to the team mom. Is she handicapped?”

“Oh…” the girl’s face drops. The parents standing next to me hear and move away, like I just told the girl I have the Bubonic Plague.

“She’s um… She’s bringing sandwiches.” Says the girl.

Here we go with the sandwiches again. Like somehow bringing sandwiches is a handicap. Here’s the deal, out of college I worked at a catering shop that specialized in sandwiches. We delivered hundreds, thousands of sandwiches. I can factually state first-hand that sandwiches are not a disability – neither is entitlement.

I take in a deep breath, “Will you please let the team mom know that there are people who actually need the handicap parking spot and it is there for a reason? Perhaps they can make a team mom spot for her so she can deliver her sandwiches. But she is not entitled to the handicap spot.”

At that moment a small, feisty woman with bleached blonde hair dressed in designer jeans and covered in gold jewelry comes bustling out of the gym area, digging through her oversized designer bag. Cliché, I know, but it’s true.

Just as she sees me she finds her keys. She holds them up for me to look at, like a prize. She stutters something that sounds like an apology and runs out the front door before I can say anything to her.

The other parents in the lobby scuttle out of mine and Dre’s way, shooting side glances as they clear a path to the gym door. The teenage girl behind the counter issues the only sincere apology we receive, stating, “I’m so sorry. She shouldn’t be parked there.” 

I’m still shaking when we get back to the area where the birthday party is being held. I’m angry at myself for not having gone out and laid into team mom. How are people like that going to clearly get the message if they aren’t confronted? But I’m also worried that if I take on team mom in the parking lot that somehow the gym will decide my sister can’t have my niece’s party there. Or maybe Dre and I will be told to leave and not be able to celebrate with my niece and family.

Why should it be solely dependent on the handicap community to hold people accountable for ensuring they have their basic rights?

Yes – what it boils down to is that while team mom’s decision to park in the handicap parking spot is what is wrong, we would be the ones to pay for her entitlement.

And that’s what’s truly at the heart of my frustration. While the team mom is an entitled bully who appears to bulldoze her way into creating her own set of rules, the rest of the problem lies in the complacency of the adults who enable her.  

Why should it be solely dependent on the handicap community to hold people accountable for ensuring they have their basic rights? Team mom’s friends know she is parked in the handicap spot. The other parents in the gym realize she is parked in the spot. But none of them feel it necessary to tell her to move her car. If someone is going to hold her accountable, it has to be the people who need the spot. But the rest of the adults treated us like we are the ones who had done something wrong.

This becomes incredibly evident in this Washington Post story about Philip Kinstler. Having utilized a wheelchair for 30-years, Kinstler was physically assaulted by the fully able-bodied Jimmie Tiger for requesting he not park in the handicap parking spot. 

A handicap man physically assaulted for standing up for his right to park in the handicap parking spot. Let that sink in.

That is how bullies work, how they create their own entitlement. By behaving in ways that scare people into thinking for some reason they are entitled to not follow the rules and targeting those they don’t see as powerful. There’s a lot of different ways it presents. There’s the mom who justifies parking in the handicap spot because she has five kids. This is a challenge, but not a handicap. The guy just running into the store really quick to pick something up. The spot is always empty anyway, right? Yeah – Not handicapped.

People need to realize that the handicap parking spot is not a privilege. It’s a right, and honestly, a right most handicap people would love to give back in order to be fully abled.

None of us should be scared to stand up to a bully who feels entitled because they lack empathy and understanding.

Are we as a society honestly ok with leaving the fight for civil rights for the handicapped to rest only on the handicap community’s shoulders? Or are we willing to stand up, even in those small moments, and let bullies (because that’s what they are) like team mom and Tiger know that their entitlement does not allow them to take away someone else’s basic rights? 

The handicap parking spot is a necessity for those with the placard. You may not be able to see their handicap – an artificial limb, fatigue from MS, there are so many handicaps we cannot see. If they have the plates or the placard it’s not for us to judge. Denver’s handicap parking laws are clearly delineated, and a quick google search should get you to your own city’s laws.

If people don’t have the placard or the plates, it should not be up to the handicap community alone to confront them. This is common human decency, and none of us should be scared to stand up to a bully who feels entitled because they lack empathy and understanding. 

So the next time you see a “team mom” bustling her way through the world and ignoring those she feels are not as entitled, I hope we can all collectively change the conversation, so it is she who is the one in the wrong, and not the person who calls her out on it. 

Please visit our Resources page if you are interested in finding some of the tools and gadgets Dre uses to make life and cooking accessible while combatting MS.

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