Yesterday I was out with a friend. We're in the middle of a heat wave here, with temperatures soaring up so high that for me to be outside for long periods of time requires planning. Sometimes the plan is to move quickly from air conditioned area to air conditioned area.
You see, quadriplegics overheat easily. It's part of what happens to our bodies as a result of spinal cord injury.
Anyway, we went to a diner and parked in the accessible spot. When we returned to my van, the car in the accessible spot next to us had parked way over onto the hash marks. We were able to lower the van ramp, but there was no room for me to get on it due to the other car blocking the hash mark area.
This happens a lot more frequently than people realize - that those who have legal accessible parking stickers and placards park ON the hash marks.
My friend offered to back my van out and lower the ramp somewhere else. She said to me "What do you do if this happens when you're alone?"
I told her I have a few choices. I can go looking for the car owner and have them move it. I can ask a stranger to back my van out. I can call a friend to help. Of course on a very hot day - or a cold one- it can be and has been dangerous for me. Sitting outside and/or going in and out of the heat or cold can make me ill.
So for those who think that 'waiting around' until someone else finishes his/her meal or shopping is the worst that can happen, that's not even the half of it. It's also not enough that those of us with disabilities know the rules - we need to make sure that people with us follow them. Here are a few suggestions:
1. If you or a loved one or friend have accessible parking privileges, please - read the pamphlet. Learn the rules. Park in the lines.
2. Share. It's time for us in the disability community to care about each other - and that includes not only those of us with disabilities but our caregivers, friends, family, etc. If someone else is alone, its really in poor taste to have your able bodied friend or relative use a facility that they don't need (accessible stall) making the other person wait while you use it as a group.
3. Teach those who are with you - If you use your placard in someone else's car, make sure that he or she parks within the lines. Please don't take the few spots reserved for vans if you don't have one and there are other spots available. Some folks can be oblivious to where they leave their car. Just explain why they need to be mindful.
4. Personal safety first. Do not approach anyone who is breaking the rules by yourself if you have safety concerns. Do not attempt to get into your vehicle if there isn't enough room - you might get injured. Go inside if you're overheating and get back into the air conditioning and get help.
5. Keep in mind that not all aspects of any disability are visible, e.g. overheating.
Be kind to each other out there, folks. We're all in this together. Really.