By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published December 6, 2018
“He parks in the far corner of the lot, explaining that it is more logical to do this and walk for fifteen more seconds than it is to spend fifteen minutes looking for a closer space.” ~Neal Stephenson, author
In our church parking lot last Sunday, I observed a senior couple pull into a “handicapped” parking space, then put a blue handicapped permit on their windshield, get out and walk a short distance into church. They showed no evidence of being handicapped, but some conditions are not readily apparent. It got me thinking about the guidelines for acquiring handicapped parking permits.
Incidentally, Maggie Rousseau, the director of the disability ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta informed me that the term “disabled” is the preferred term for a person with disabilities even though some signs, permits and license plates continue to use the term “handicapped.”
Requirements for disabled parking
I checked with the Georgia Department of Revenue, Motor Vehicles Division and their website states that a licensed doctor or medical professional needs to certify an individual has an impaired mobility to meet the eligibility requirement for a permit.
Specific requirements for disabled parking eligibility include:
‑You can’t walk 200 feet without stopping to rest
-You require a wheelchair or other mobility assistance
-Your mobility is severely disabled due to an arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic condition or complications due to pregnancy
-You are restricted by lung disease
-You are hearing impaired
-You are blind and your central visual acuity doesn’t exceed 20/200 with correcting lenses
These are pretty specific requirements that would apply to a relatively small percentage of applicants. It then raises the question of why the disabled parking spaces at supermarkets, the mall, restaurants and public places are always occupied. Is it that we have a larger percentage of disabled people? Or, has the senior population explosion brought about a surge in parking permit applications based mostly on the effects of aging?
A few years ago I had a hip replacement and the orthopedic surgeon asked if I would like a temporary disabled parking letter of application. I was a little surprised because I was walking the same day of surgery and going up and down steps the next day. I felt it was a blessing that surgical advances enabled me to walk so quickly after surgery. The doctor said it was routine to ask patients if they would like to apply for a temporary disabled parking permit.
Apparently, some of these temporary permits end up being used well beyond the recovery period or perhaps in some incidences where an authorization is approved for a condition less than the official eligibility requirements, including some applicants whose only condition may be their advancing age.
We have two wheelchair-bound special needs sons and it is particularly distressing when we arrive at church and there are no disabled parking spaces available. We accept the need to arrive earlier but we pray that some people, including possibly seniors, are not taking advantage of the ease of getting parking permits just so they can park a little closer.
My personal guideline is that growing old should be viewed as a gift from God, not a disability. If you can walk across a parking lot rather than take a closer disabled parking space, I urge you to do it. The next time you walk or drive by a disabled parking space, say a prayer for the disabled person who really needs the closer space.