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"The Look"

Rerun (character from Charlie Brown)

The long and ongoing misuse of disability parking spaces is still one of the most discussed, high profile issues affecting people with disabilities. A recently set up Facebook page entitled "The Australian Disability Parking Wall of Shame' has aimed to name and shame able bodied people by posting photos of the offender's vehicles who have disregarded obvious signage and laws to park in clearly marked designated disability parking spaces. These posts and photos shared on this page have been remarkable in their numbers. I am rather old and should not really be shocked but I am still amazed at how many able bodied people just blatantly disregard the law but also the actual reason why these spaces exist.

What is even more disturbing is, when able bodied individuals are approached about why they have parked in the disability spaces, their responses are astonishing. Responses, as reported by members of the page have included and I'm paraphrasing…..'It’s a new car and I didn't want to get it scratched', 'I'm busy and a mum', 'it's not my problem', 'we've got a job to do', and of course the always used excuse, 'I'll only be a few minutes'.

None of the above excuses are acceptable. In my own experiences when I have come across vehicles parked illegally and have had the opportunity to indicate to the driver that they have parked in a disability space; the individuals really dislike being told they are blatantly in the wrong and respond with venom and vitriol. Able bodied people seem to really dislike being told they are wrong by people with disabilities; they also appear to not want to admit any wrong doing or take any responsibility for their actions. I am not a confrontational person and in my 30 years plus of requiring the use of disability parking spaces, I have only on a handful of occasions challenged an able bodied person on their parking choice but I am great at giving them 'The Look'. The Look is a very important tool in the use of conveying a message and can be used on many occasions. The Look is used sparingly but its aim is to create a small level of shame, to produce an instant moment of epiphany and to invoke the ability to pass on the message conveyed by The Look to other unknowing individuals. The Look conveys disappointment, tempered anger, a sense of 'I feel sorry for you' all combined with 'you should know better'. The Look is used sparingly but effectively and in my mind at least, causes the offender to shake in their well-worn able bodied boots, heels, or thongs.

On those occasions where I have verbally expressed my disappointment at said individuals, not once has anyone admitted fault. The last occasion I questioned a driver on his parking choice was due to the fact that I could not park to get out of my car to go to work until the offender moved his truck, which could be anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes. This delivery driver constantly parked in the disability spaces despite there being ample other areas and spaces he could park. I pointed out that he should not and was not allowed to park there. His response was 'it’s not my problem and why should I care'. I told him to take responsibility for his actions and to not park there again. He did not respond and just drove off. I then contacted the parking office of the organisation I work for and their response was 'we can't control who parks where' I told them 'but you can inform all companies that deliver to our organisation not to use disability parking spaces'. I am not aware if they took this advice or not.

The point is, it is 2015 and I should not have to challenge able bodied people on their parking choices, I should not have to play the role of parking police, I should not have to continue to fight for my legal right, I should not have to deal with individuals who believe their time is more valuable than mine. Unfortunately I and others who require the use of disability parking spaces are still dealing with outdated and unaccepting attitudes towards people with disabilities.

A further discussion has commenced on the Disability Parking Wall of Shame around signage and whether the signage should reflect all people with disabilities, obvious and invisible and whether the current use of the 'wheelchair' symbol is truly reflective.

But changing signage will not solve this issue. Non-accepting, ignorant, uneducated, selfish individuals who park in disability parking spaces do not and will not pay attention to signage regardless of what it looks like. They will continue to park illegally. This is an attitude issue and unfortunately one that still needs lots of work. I don't think it is a lot to expect that your average Australian would clearly understand why there are disability parking spaces and that they are used by permit carrying individuals who need to use these spaces. And the reasons for needing the spaces are many and varied, some obvious and some not but are all legitimate. Why is this so hard to understand?

I will continue to use The Look when needed to raise fear among the biped population, but in truth I would much rather just smile to myself in knowing that the walking, running, jumping members of our society accept my parking and access requirements as par for the course.