For some people it means nothing at all: they pull into a handicapped parking space, run into the bank or store for “just a minute,” then head out to go about their day.
But for other people it makes all the difference in the world: for those who suffer from debilitating diseases or disabilities, taking only a few steps can be painful, difficult, and time consuming. For them, the handicapped parking space is not just a convenience – it is a necessity.
On June 22, Joyce Olsen, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, wanted to park outside her doctor’s office in Langley City, only to find a vehicle parked in the slot designated for the disabled.
A young woman, clearly able-bodied, walked quickly towards the parked car. Before she got in, Olsen pointed out that the space was reserved for disabled drivers.
“I was only here for a few seconds, bitch,” the other woman replied.
The offensive comment shocked Olsen, whose health has declined over the past eight months. Then, about an hour later, a similar incident occurred outside the Royal Bank in Murrayville where a fit driver had parked in a stall marked for the handicapped.
It was the last straw for Olsen, who immediately contacted the Township’s bylaw enforcement office which has wasted no time in cracking down on able-bodied drivers who park illegally in handicapped spaces.
Motorists who do not have a handicapped sign in their vehicle and are found in the designated spots will be subject to a fine of $100.
Olsen welcomes the move, and hopes that enforcement, coupled with increased public awareness, will prompt drivers to make smarter parking choices.
“Their attitude when they get caught is just awful,” she said.
Referring to the young woman who insulted her, she said that in 17 years of nursing “I was never called anything like that.”
“It may seem like I can’t walk, but I can still talk,” she said, adding that the time has come to call out the offenders. “So many people are behind me. We just need to get the ball rolling and get some attention on this.”
One of her biggest supporters is her friend, Karrie Knight. She, too, has MS, but unlike Olsen who uses a cane or walker, her symptoms are less obvious, so that even though she looks healthy when she steps out of her car in a slot reserved for the disabled, she may be exhausted or in pain.
Township bylaw manager Bill Storie said that targeting and ticketing violators will help, and he hopes that drivers will think twice before taking up a parking stall reserved for the disabled.
“We have turned into a ‘me’ society,” Storie said, “but people need to start looking around and seeing the effects they have on other people. You may be able-bodied, but for somebody who can barely walk, it can take five minutes to go 30 feet. You might think, ‘I’m just going to run in,” but every foot is critical to these people.”
Parking in a handicapped spot is a “particularly selfish violation,” Storie said.