SCI Awareness Month… this is a tough one for me because I have the propensity to lean towards the negative. I would like to be positive and tell all about what he can do; what WE can do. But, when talking about SCI awareness it’s easy to fall into the complaints, anecdotes and issues that come with living with someone who uses a wheelchair full time. So, in my attempt to put a positive spin on things, I would like to educate others on the perks of living with someone in a wheelchair. They include skirting line ups at amusement parks, getting priority seating on the airplane, and the PARKING.
Which leads me to what I would want others to know about living with a person who uses a wheelchair full time – HANDI PARKING.
OK people. It is an issue. A BIG issue. We have an aging population with increasingly poor health and mobility issues. There is an increasing number of Handicap Placards being distributed to this population. My gripe? The reason for bringing awareness to this issue? Well, here it is: STOP USING THE HANDI SPACES AS A WAITING ROOM.
Acceptable reasons to use the HANDI parking space.
- You are a person who absolutely requires the extra width of the handicap space to get in and out of your vehicle, OR
- you require close proximity to the building for your level of ability
- AND, you are the one getting out of your vehicle.
- There is no other available option.
Here is the education I have received since living with someone in a wheelchair.
My man is like any other man, only he’s on wheels. This man has never, ever come across to me as someone who has ever needed help with anything. He is capable, able, and a fixer. He is a doer and a helper.
He pointed out to me that he will only use a handi space if he is the one getting out of the car. Moreover, he will seek out a parking space further out in the parking lot that would offer that same noninfringement to his side of the vehicle that a handicap space would offer. He would never park in the handicap space so that I can “run in for just a minute” while he waited in the car, he would never park in this space if there was another one close by that would work just as well, and he would never use the space if the one right beside it would do (eg you don’t need the required space to open your door fully to allow for the wheelchair/walker/device).
Why would he do this? He has a handi placard. Why not park in the available handi space?
This is why. This man recognizes that just because he CAN doesn’t mean he SHOULD. He understands what it means to feel restricted. He understands that perhaps there is someone who needs to park closer to the building, like someone with a heart or other medical condition who can’t walk far. Or someone who requires the space for a wheelchair lift. Or perhaps someone who uses a cane or crutches and finds walking a greater distance a struggle. And now I understand these things too. I have learned quite a lot since our relationship began. I was never one to park in a handi space, but I certainly have been guilty of idling in one. I understand that ignorance is not an excuse, but it is real and sadly it is alive and well in the community.
Ignorance can be fixed and the solution is education. I encourage everyone to help educate with a kind approach. Have a conversation with those you see, just “stopping for a minute” or “waiting for their wife/husband” while they ran in to grab a carton of milk. Leave notes explaining why these spaces are needed and that there are simply not enough of them. Send letters to your city to ask for more availability of Handi spaces. Educate others on the variety of ways these spaces are required.
Education is amazing, in that when you learn new things, you can’t imagine a time before you didn’t know. I look back at my own experience, or lack thereof, with SCI and what it means. There is so much I have learned and so much more yet to know. Don’t ever stop learning, educating, and experiencing because wonderful things happen when you do.