So, let me say at the outset that I have some serious skin invested in the subject I wish to address today. At issue is the way the government hands out that little blue placard with the “stick” rendering of a person sitting in a wheelchair.
On February 29, 1996 my wife hit a substantial bump while riding on a snowmobile in Utah. The little mogul she hit threw her in the air and when she came back down the impact forced her T-7 vertebrae into her spinal cord. The resulting 70% compression of the cord immediately rendered her paralyzed from the waist down. A simple quirk of fate handed her to a life-sentence of limitation and challenge she could never have imagined.
The way she responded has made her a hero to family members and friends. She has reclaimed her life with a strength and dignity, that even she did not know she pocessed. She has overcome the challenges that come with such a life-altering injury.
But there is one constant obstacle she struggles with most days when she climbs into her hand-control equipped car and drives off to the mall, the grocery, the theatre or any other public place. Where to park?
This brings me to the question at hand; why does the State of Ohio hand out disabled parking placards like Halloween candy? The laws of the state indicated that you are eligible for a placard if you:
• Can't walk 200 feet without stopping to rest.
• Can't walk without use of a brace, cane, crutch, another person, prosthetic device or wheelchair.
• Are restricted by lung disease.
• Use portable oxygen.
• Have a cardiac condition that limits activity.
• Are severely limited by arthritic, neurological or orthopedic conditions.
• Are blind.
That’s it. That’s the short list for those who qualify for the blue-and-white placard hanging from the rear view mirror that allows one to park in those close-to-the-front-door spaces reserved for people with disabilities. Nowhere does it include the “20-something” that can leap the five feet from the cab of his jacked-up pick-up truck and sprint in front of oncoming cars in the Kroger’s parking lot.
Research indicates that between 2000 and 2006, the number of placards assigned annually by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles increased by more than 80 percent. Almost half of the more than 800,000 individuals with active placards possess multiple copies, according to BMV records. More than 3,500 users possess five or more placards. In 2008, more than 1.2 million placards -- or roughly one for every 10 Ohioans – were in circulation. Halloween for the lazy?
Clearly there is abundant abuse. Of course, if being 50 pounds overweight is a disability, then I stand corrected. For it seems to me, as a subjective observer, the preponderance of those waddling from the special parking places into Costco day in and day out are those who are most in need of a good healthy walk. Rest assured when they get inside the store they will avail themselves of those free scooter carts. And when they finish with the cart, they are highly likely to park it in the one available handicap spot unoccupied by a car.
Who is to blame? Who are the enablers? Well, certainly those doctors who write prescriptions for the lazy instead of telling them to go for walk, are culpable. The State of Ohio is obviously so deep in bureaucracy that it is unable to effectively monitor and enforce its own guidelines.
But isn’t it really the fast food, entitled, self-absorbed “lazy is my right” mentality of our own citizens that is the real culprit? We simply do not care enough for each other. Why else would a perfectly healthy person borrow grandpa’s placard for that trip to the mall? Why else would the folks that plow the snow at so many parking lots consistently dump that snow in the disabled parking areas? Why else would anyone stop their car in the fire lane while their relatively fit friend runs into a store to buy a pack of cigarettes? Perhaps if they had to experience a single day of paralysis and had to try to transfer from a car seat to a wheelchair within the limits of the standard parking place in the middle of a cold Cincinnati rain storm they would rethink their behavior.
I am practical enough to know that this rant will change nothing. And I also know that this is not limited to the great State of Ohio. During my research I discovered that in 2009, 4,340 dead people applied for disabled placards in Scotland. That’s right - dead people. “The bad news is Grandma died; the good news is we get better parking for the next five years.” Fraud is a creative art.
All right, I got that off my chest. I think I'll go for a walk.
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