Soapbox Saturday: Disabled Parking

Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov once said:

“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious”

As you know I’m a big fan of comedy and humour. In fact both are essential to my life and that’s why I like to write posts that make people laugh. Occasionally, I like to get a little serious and today is a day for a little seriousness.

On 3 May, 2012, Harper Faulkner posted the following scenario under the heading Ethical?  on his blog All Write:

So, as I’m walking to the entrance of my building this morning, I notice a man I know a bit more than casually parking in a handicapped spot. His license plate has the required handicapped logo and, additionally, he has a handicapped sign hanging from his rearview mirror. He’s legal. I meet him on my journey into work and being the kind (not nosey) person I am, I enquire about his health. His health is fine. So, I remark on his handicapped status expecting to here of an unseen ailment that restricts his walking.  “Oh, that,” he responds. “That’s my wife’s car.”  He explains her disability and indeed, she does have problems. We ride up in the elevator and he remarks, “I always like driving her car, because I can park so much closer.” I exit and he travels one more floor.”

Harper received approximately 60 comments on his post and thankfully the overwhelming majority of respondents were of the view that this was unethical. I was one of them.

I wanted to expand my response, hence this post.

Australia has a national disabled parking scheme. Permits are provided to those with a Clinically Recognisable Disability which includes paraplegia, quadripligia, cerebral palsy, neuromuscular conditions and blindness. In addition to this scheme, each State operates a mobility parking scheme which requires medical certification and applies to a person:

    • Who is unable to walk due to the permanent or temporary loss of use of one or both legs or other permanent medical or physical condition; or
    • Whose physical condition is detrimentally affected as a result of walking 100 metres; or
    • Who requires the use of crutches, a walking frame, callipers, scooter, wheelchair or other similar mobility aid; or
    • Who is legally blind.

In both cases the permit is used to the person not the vehicle and is only valid for use whilst the person with the disability is using or a passenger in the vehicle. Whilst this is a proper and correct rule to have, in reality it is very hard to police. Furthermore, the issue of permits in my State is terribly lax and the scheme is systematically abused. These are the facts which generally lead to people with disabilities having to take matters into their own hands – with mixed success.

From a moral standpoint and taking the scenario posed in Harper’s post, I cannot understand how a person feels they have a right to park in a spot reserved for a person with a disability simply because they have a disability permit in the family. On what basis can this ever be correct? To treat disability as a convenience is in my view reprehensible. There is nothing about a disability that is convenient. One cannot take the perceived “benefits” of disability without experiencing the burden. Roll a mile on a set of wheels and experience all of the other complications, societal ignorance and double standards that come with that sort of life and then see if you have the energy and the expenses to go out and steal parking spots. Vicariously experiancing these things through a spouse is not the same.

This may be a small issue to some, a minor transgression if you will but to me it’s more symptomatic of a general disrespect to people with a disability and a lack of emotional accessibility, which I wrote about in my E post for the April Challenge. And this, from a man who should understand and respect disability a little more than most given his wife’s situation. This is why some people with a disability view able bodied members of the human race (of which I am one) as the enemy. Let’s keep on digging that great divide, shall we?

To you sir I say ride the bureaucratic windfall if you must, but one day the parking spot someone steals will be your wife’s. Karma has a way of finding you.

E is for Emotional Accessibility, Equality and Egalitarian

photo flikr - Nina Matthews photography

Let me start this post by saying I am not a person with a disability. I’m not saying this to make myself sound superior, better or normal (whatever that means?). I’m simply laying my cards on the table because this post will be about disability and there are those that will no doubt question my standing to write on this topic. I get that. To you,  I say fair enough but if you want a truly equal and accessible world then it has to work both ways. You need to let me in too and together we can advocate with strength.

Having several friends who have a disability, I am passionate about the topics of disabled rights, accessibility and equality. So naturally, a newspaper article headed “Access all Areas” caught my eye a couple of weeks ago. The article focused on how a beachside suburb in Sydney was transforming itself into a tourism mecca for people with disabilities – heralded as a world’s first. The suburb is Collaroy and involves considerable redevelopment of the area including Colloroy Beach (pools, surf life saving club and playground), the construction of an accessible bed and breakfast and a residential facility for people with spinal cord injury (SCI). The commercial strip is also to be redeveloped with the intention that the precinct be a showcase of what inclusion is all about. It is the brainchild of Gary Blaschke, the founder of the Disabled Surfers Association. Warringah Council are also involved. At this point I say “where is the “like, like, like” button”?

The article points out that there is no point in creating a world-class SCI facility if its residents are effectively excluded from the community once they leave the front gate. I discovered that putting in ramps and removing other physical barriers is only part of the story. It was here that I received my introduction to the concept of “emotional accessibility”.

Never having heard the expression, I entered Google University and went in search of more information. At first I thought it had something to do with showing more emotion and making your feelings more known to others (which in a way I suppose it does).  Google University proved a little disappointing  – there was not much I could find. From my readings “emotional accessibility” seems to encompass the notions of being welcoming, receptive and making people with a disability feel valued. So this got me thinking about how much emotional accessibility do I create.

To me the expression connotes something more than just emotional intelligence. It’s about opening up your eyes and your heart and building bridges to negate the obvious differences. Barriers here, barriers there, barriers every where to break down and I’m not just talking about the physical ones. We all weep, feel emotions and bleed red blood.

My friends who are disabled are some of the most amazingly talented people I know. Whether they are writers, singers, business owners or professionals they each bring a unique piece of fabric to my friendship matrix. They are just good eggs.

Do I totally look past the wheelchair and the disability? No I don’t and I don’t believe my friends would want me to. It’s a part of who they are, but it does not define them. These things are not the first or even second thing I think of when I think of them. They have taught me much about relationships, life, attitudes, myself and last but not least, disability. I thank them for the education.

My dream is for a truly accessible and egalitarian society. I have mentored disabled students as a small first step towards this dream. I am hoping to bulldoze my way through a few more barriers in the future.

poster from

This my friends, is an emotionally accessible blog site.

Do you practice emotional accessibility?