Handicapped Parking Without A Placard

Handicapped Parking Without A Placard

As someone who is active in the RA and chronic illness community, I’ve heard lots of horror stories about handicapped parking. So many people with invisible illnesses have been judged and yelled at by strangers for making use of completely legal and legitimate handicapped placards. And I think that is pretty terrible.

But you know what else is terrible? The other end of the spectrum: when people without handicapped placards think it's ok to park in a handicapped spot for their own convenience. Because they’re just going to grab a coffee or drop a package at the post office real quick. Or because it’s raining or snowing. Or because there are no other spots nearby their destination. Or any other justification they might have for making a choice that I ultimately think is disrespectful to all disabled individuals. Not to mention illegal.

I recently witnessed an instance of illegal handicapped parking that I thought was particularly disrespectful. My family has season tickets to a local sports team, and at a recent game I noticed that a giant tour bus was parked across several handicapped parking spots. Closer inspection revealed the bus to be charted by a supporter’s club, a group that picks up fans from downtown bars and provides a tailgate party before each game. A grill was set up just outside the bus and they were serving beer from kegs located in the luggage compartments. There was even a game of cornhole set up across a few additional handicapped spots.

While I do think the bus is providing a great service for the community – by reducing the traffic at games and keeping people who have been drinking from driving – I was concerned to notice them taking up so many handicapped spots without any visible sign of a placard. After seeing this tailgate setup at a couple of games in a row and determining for myself that it was a regular occurrence, I decided to email the supporter’s club and ask for an explanation.

The first response I got was cordial, friendly even. The manager of the club explained that, at most games, there are a lot more handicapped parking spots available than placard holders wanting to use them. Since the tailgate requires a lot of heavy equipment – like grills, tables, tents, and kegs – the bus is often parked there for convenience. He claimed they were carefully monitoring the situation to ensure that they were not in violation of the ADA, and that I should never be denied the opportunity to park in a handicapped spot. He even gave me his cell phone number in case I experienced any issues in the future and encouraged me to stop by the tailgate party at the next game.

I wrote back as politely as I could, thanking him for taking the time to get back to me and for the valuable service they provide the community. But I also told him honestly that I would never feel comfortable asking an entire tailgate party to move so that I could make use of a handicapped spot. I also told him, even though there did appear to be plenty of handicapped parking available, that it is never legal to park in a designated space without a legally issued placard – let alone take up five or six spaces. As kindly as possible I warned him that, according to the law, parking illegally in a designated handicapped spot is a violation punishable by fine, loss of driving privileges, vehicle impound, or even possible jail time. I also said that I hoped the club would reconsider the kind of example they were setting for the community. I thanked him for his time.

Unfortunately, his second response was less than pleasant – bordering on hostile. But what did I expect? Did I think he was going to thank me for warning him they were breaking the law? Did I expect him to be grateful that they will probably be forced to find a less convenient spot for their tailgate party? He legitimately thought that parking there was ok. That they had a reasonable excuse. That they weren’t doing anything wrong. And he wasn’t the only person with that way of thinking . There were at least 50 people riding that bus and attending that tailgate party – and no indication that a single one (or even the bus company, for that matter) thought it was wrong of them to take up five or six handicapped parking spots without a placard.

But at least I tried. I tried to stand up for the disabled community. I tried to give a voice to the people who work so hard to get through an ordinary day that they deserve every little break they can get. Because I can tell you one thing for certain: most of us would park in the farthest spot in the lot every single time if we could just live without the conditions that grant us those placards in the first place.

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