We’ve all been there. A crowded theatre on the opening night of a blockbuster, a popular restaurant center, or the mall for a big holiday sale. The parking lot is full. It’s beyond full.
Pick-ups are parked up on grassy medians. Mini Coopers are sandwiched at the ends of aisles. The lots for nearby businesses and any side streets are full with the overflow. You are left driving around, trolling the aisles looking for someone leaving. It’s getting late. Your frustration builds. The kids are antsy and ready to go in. You risk missing the last tickets or getting your name high up on that table wait list. Your “To Do” list seems endless. You don’t have time to waste with this nonsense!
And yet, there are open parking spaces. Wonderful ones. The best ones! Right up front. Next to the entrance. The perfect place from which to start your outing. Easy access. Ready and waiting. Empty. Unused. Hooray! You angle the auto to turn in… and stop dead in your tracks. There’s a sign. That dreaded sign! Ugh! The handicapped sign reserving these spots for vehicles bearing handicapped placards. In case you don’t get the message, the pavement is often painted with the universal bright blue wheelchair symbol. Dejection. You pull back out and continue your hunt for a parking space that you can use.
I often hear complaints about those empty handicapped parking spaces. That there are too many. How they clearly aren’t needed since they are so rarely used…. yada, yada, yada. My take is different. To me, those empty spots represent missing people. Individuals left at home. A mother or grandfather or brother not there, missing out on all the fun. Lacking the opportunity to participate in the activities you are so ready to partake in, simply because they are at home. Shut-in. Shut-in by the absence of funds for a vehicle suitable to their needs, lack of a companion, depression, inability to figure out the bus schedule, fear, shame, pain.
Our goal is to fill those handicapped parking spots. To make it easier for people with disabilities to get out and enjoy the activities we all take for granted. So the next time you see empty spots at the front with the dreaded sign prohibiting an able-bodied person from using that parking spot, think about the physically-challenged individual left at home. The person that should be parking there. How they are losing out and missing. The loss of that business’s profits from sales to that individual. Our loss as a community by not being fulfilled through this person’s presence and participation.
The struggle is real. The hardship and difficulties experienced each and every day by individuals with disabilities. Everybody has a right to participate in our economic and leisure activities. Let’s work on finding ways to fill those spots. To get everyone out and about and enjoying the full activities that our community has to offer. That empty handicapped parking spot is a reminder to us all of how far we have yet to go. How many people are still being left behind. It’s a gap that needs to be eliminated. Make a commitment. Get involved. Find a way to help. Let’s fill those parking spots!