My husband is in a wheelchair. It's an electric wheelchair, high-tech and so heavy I wouldn't be able to push him if the battery power gave out. I am his primary caregiver, an expanding role, and one that requires careful planning. Although I'm happy to be his driver, I'm not always happy with wheelchair parking spaces.
The other evening we decided to eat at a restaurant a few blocks from our home. We had eaten there before, thought the food was good, and were pleased with the parking arrangements. There are two wheelchair spaces in front of the restaurant, and two more a short distance away. I was just about to pull into a space by the front door, when a recreational vehicle sped up, and parked.
I couldn't believe my eyes. Three passengers, none of them handicapped, got out of the car and entered the restaurant. "If I see them I'm going to say something," I declared angrily. "That was a terrible thing to do."
"Don't bother," my husband replied. "It won't change anything." But some things need to be changed. Handicapped parking is a service to wheelchair-bound citizens of the community. Parking illegally in handicapped space is a selfish act, plain and simple.
In Minnesota, where I live, if you park illegally in a handicapped space the fine is $225. For this fine to be levied you need to catch the person who parked illegally. Plus, I don't think the police check these spaces very often.
Two years have passed since I first became my husband's caregiver. During this time I've learned to prepare for wheelchair parking. Your loved one may be in a wheelchair too, and you can prepare by following these tips.
- Scope out the setting. Drive by a day or two ahead, and note the location of the handicapped parking spaces.
- Check parking ramps. Do they have wheelchair parking? Is there enough room for a ramp to go out?
- Call the restaurant. Ask if it has room for someone in a wheelchair. Although restaurants are supposed to be wheelchair accessible, the space is often tight.
- Allow extra time. I've found that it takes twice as long as it used to for us to get to places.
- Hang the parking ticket on the rear view mirror. Our used wheelchair van also has a sticker on it, asking people to park eight feet away from the van.
- Eye-ball the parking space. Like me, you may need extra space to lower the ramp, and for your loved one to wheel off it.
- Check to see if wheels are straight. The wheels on my husband's chair swiveled unexpectedly and one got stuck on the rim of the ramp. I called my grandson for help, and could have called 911.
- Thank kind people. The people who open doors for you and hold them open are compassionate and deserve your gratitude.
- Get license plate numbers. If you see cars parked illegally, write down the numbers, and report them to the police.
- Write a letter to the editor. Remind people about handicapped parking rules. Nobody asks to be handicapped and your loved one has to adjust to her or his situation, and to handicapped parking.
- Be kind to yourself. Don't let bad parking experiences ruin your day. You and your loved one are together and that is a blessing.
Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for 37 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 34 books. Her latest releases are Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss, Help! I'm Raising My Grandkids, and Seed Time: Growing from Life's Disappointments, Losses, and Sorrows. The first two books in her family caregiving series, The Family Caregiver's Guide and Affirmations for Family Caregivers, come out in the fall of 2015. For more information about them visit her website.