Ok that was a terrible title…but bear with me once more, oh reader. This past weekend, Shannon and I took our Toby to High Park’s amazing off-leash dog park. It is just a few blocks from us and has some amazing people who don’t mind dog’s getting a bit rough, a bit messy and big sloppy lick and random dog kisses. It’s a fun place. The trick is, the park is the biggest in Toronto (not counting the Rouge Valley) and is REALLY busy on weekends. As you can imagine, this means we get a bit of an advantage with my car having the disabled parking sticker…but even with that, we often have to circle several times on weekends. This time, though, we got lucky and got what we’ve begun to refer to as “my spot” right beside the gate to the off leash area.
Now, I know…who gives a flying hoot, you say. What made this interesting was the people watching us as we parked. An older couple across the way, making sure that we actually needed to use the spot. This is actually quite common, and hell, we’ve been guilty of doing it too when seeing people sitting in disabled spots. Shannon got into the habit, almost immediately when the chair came into our lives, of getting out of the car as quick as possible, leaving coat, purse, whatever inside, just so she could get the chair unloaded and by my door as quick as possible. Not to speed things up for me…hell now, I’m lucky to have the door even open and my seatbelt off before the chair is there…it’s to be sure no one sees a “youngish” couple like us using a disabled spot and wondering if we are legit. You’ve got to admit…the wheelchair kind of takes away all questions. Though I am waiting for the day when I have to pull up my shirt and show the 3 times opened scar up my spine to prove to some idiot why we use it. Hasn’t happened yet…but I’m waiting for it.
The trick is, this got me to thinking about parking and what it really means when you are disabled. It isn’t all about just having the closest spot to the entrance at the mall…though I’ll grant that does have its fun around Christmas time. For some disabled people, that closeness matters…but for me, or really anyone in a chair (manual or powered), the distance to the door really doesn’t matter. I mean really…other than a few days a year, here in Toronto, when snow makes me not even want to leave the house, it doesn’t matter how close the spot is to a door…the chair isn’t going to make it. On a good day? Please I enjoy wheeling the extra distance just to get some sun. So what is it really about disabled parking that makes it useful? It’s not that complex…but it’s amazing how many buildings and property managers just don’t seem to get it…and as the perfect example I’ll use my own bloody office!
Anyone following me on Facebook or Twitter has seen me rant about the idiot parking at my building (and others as well). I’m sure that many independent chair users (there has to be a better term for us) suffer through the same gripes…and often we just have to find a way to work around them. That being said…and trust me its not being said to make use out as being some kind of saints of patience…it really doesn’t take much to make parking WORK. And if parking works…it really does make it easier for we disabled to work as well.
If you are reading this as an able-bodied person…what do you think the priority on a parking spot would be? Obviously, I’ve already made a case that location really doesn’t matter all that much. So what makes the difference? To me there are two things that are most important. Width of the space and lack of any barriers (be they poles or curbs). To give you an idea take a look at some of the pictures of my own office parking lot. Keep in mind that this is in the reserved section for tenants…the parking for visitors actually meets what I would call basic requirements…but the poor tenants don’t get the same treatment. So…here’s hoping I can keep this entertaining!
Our building has a total of four disabled spots, two of which were only added in the spring of 2013. That’s of about 500 plus spots, some out in the open, most in a covered multi-level parking structure. Now, I don’t use these spots, for many reasons and if you look close it’s not hard to guess why. The not so obvious is that the building you see to the left isn’t actually my building…mine is behind that one. The most obvious reasons are two fold. First the curb makes using two of the spots basically useless. Second and even more important is the width of the spots. They are just normal spots with the bloody wheelchair painted on them a sign pasted up. How exactly does someone get around their vehicle and load their chair when there is barely any space for a walking person to get between cars? How does one deal with the curb? Two years in I’m still learning how to pop over midsized curbs, but that’s no help when trying to get to a driver’s side door. So I don’t use these spots…granted they are usually full early in the morning before I ever get to the office…and long time readers no damn well I am not an early morning person…
Yawn….sorry where was I?
Oh so where do I park? I’m glad you asked! Let me show you where I park…and then what I have to contend with to get TO my office.
So there my car, back up waiting to load my chair…and…that’s my spot. Once more, notice any problems? The day I took these pics, I was lucky as I had no one parking on either side of me…but that is by no means normal. I park as far to the right side of the spot as I can without cramping my neighbour TOO badly…but I hesitate to wonder how they must curse me sometimes. I won’t even get into describing how I deal with this…but you can see the problem. Width and obstacles. Oh and it gets worse…
Obviously, there isn’t much I can do about a pole holding up a five story parking structure. Fortunately, through most of the year I can work around it. However, see that space to the left of it? There are about six open air parking spots that run down a bit of a hill, eventually leading to my building (as you’ll see in a moment). Guess what those spots are used for in the winter time? What? Did you say a place to dump snow into after a good storm? DING DING DING you win a prize. Yep, that’s where the mounds of snow go…and then when it melts, it turns into a wonderful pool of ice and slush…oh and did I mention the hill?
This pick I took from the same height as the footplate of my wheelchair. Way off in the distance is my office building…and that hill may not look like much to you as it gently slopes down…but try taking it and all its cracks and bumps, every day in chair…then add rain, snow, slush and ice to the mix. You start to get the idea of the difficulties. Again I don’t truly care about the distance…though obviously I wouldn’t mind something a little closer…who wouldn’t?
So what’s the point of this whining rant about parking? Unfortunately, this isn’t just one building that I happen to share an office in. This is something I encounter constantly. Disabled spots that just had no thought put into them at all (don’t get me started about spots for eco cars and families with kids). When the chair came into my life, my way of earning my living changed as did the rest of my life. That’s something I’ll go into another time, but it eliminated most client visits for me…and one of the main reasons was due to parking. Not the only reason mind you, but have you ever tried to deal with loading and unloading a wheelchair on busy street parking? First time I tried I almost didn’t survive it.
It doesn’t take much to make this kind of thing easier. Yes, a building may lose a spot or two in making them accessible, wide and obstacle free…but in the long run, it’s to EVERYONE’s benefit when this happens. Disabled people who can be independent are able to work, to live, to contribute to society. They aren’t a drain on it…which is a bit harsh of me to say given how many disabled legitimately can’t work…but there are a lot of us who can…we just need a little bit of help to do it. Parking is just one side of it…but it matters.
Oh and ramps! Bloody proper low ramped curbs! That would be a HUGE help. And maybe some handrails…heated! No wait..now I’m just getting carried away.