In my world-the world of a wheelchair using spinal cord injury quadriplegic-access, accessibility, and accommodations are key elements to leveling the playing field so that I can continue to be an active and productive member of society. That’s why I’m not a fan of a recent legislative-accessibility-accommodation-disability trend that has started to gain some momentum over the past year: providing handicapped accessible parking privileges for able-bodied women who are pregnant.
To be clear, I’m by no means trying to be controversial by picking on the pregnant ladies out there: you deserve a hell of a lot of credit for living through the nine month’s worth of physical struggles that you endure. God bless you all for it. Both of my sister’s pregnancies were basically nine months of morning sickness and it was terrible to be an innocent bystander. The key elements are pregnancy and handicapped parking, and from my perspective this issue is worth a deeper exploration because it has a few bigger picture elements that on various levels have a frustrating impact on people with real disabilities who have to use accessible parking.
This issue first grabbed my attention last year when the governor of Oklahoma signed new legislation allowing pregnant women the right to park in handicapped spaces during their final months of pregnancy if their doctors decide that it’s necessary. Apparently, the idea for the legislation first came about when a member of the House Democratic Caucus witnessed a pregnant woman crossing an icy parking lot “on foot,” deduced that the consequences of a fall at such a late stage in a woman’s pregnancy could be very serious (duh), and that had she been allowed to use the handicapped spot near the entrance she would have been at much less risk of an injury. Very recently New York City has adopted legislation that allows pregnant women to request a note from their doctor entitling them to a special parking placard as well.
The current Oklahoma law that speaks to the handicapped parking privilege (which is similar to almost all jurisdictions) covers individuals who cannot walk 200 feet without stopping to rest, people who require the use of a brace or a cane, those who have temporarily lost the use of one or more limbs, or those who are severely limited in their ability to walk due to an arthritic, neurological or orthopedic condition. Clearly, the Oklahoma legislature based their analysis on the first factor, that women in the late stages of pregnancy have trouble walking 200 feet.
So like I said, there are a few elements at play here. Right off the bat I take issue with the notion in general that within the context of these laws a pregnancy equals a disability. Again, I’m in no position to speak to the physical difficulties pregnant women have moving around as “go time” nears. But despite the temporary “disabling” physical and mobility issues that able-bodied pregnant women face, they do not have, nor will they ever have a physical disability that is anywhere near on par with, say, someone with SCI, MD, CP, or a plethora of other permanent disabilities, especially those that require the use of a wheelchair. So at the least, the late stage pregnancy-disability notion makes me raise an eyebrow, at most I find it completely offensive.
The next issue to analyze is both the short and long term effects that these laws will have on the handicapped parking system. In the short term in Oklahoma it leads to an influx of 1100 extra able-bodied people using accessible parking spots per quarter on top of 80,000 already issued. The legislators seem to pass this off like the number is so miniscule that it’s no big deal. But in my world adding 1100 more people to “compete” with me for regular access that I absolutely require IS a big deal, especially when they are still physically capable of parking and walking from any spot on the lot. As it is, plenty of malls, grocery stores, and Wal-Mart type stores already provide so-called “stork” parking for expecting mothers and people with small children, which are always located right next to the last accessible spot at the front of parking aisles. The problem that I’ve had with that for years now is the propensity for certain people to get so used to their close “stork” parking that when they park in lots that don’t provide them then they start parking in the last accessible spots instead because they are “close enough.” This legislation may further increase that false entitlement to close parking and could be abused by many for the sake of convenience. Not to mention further clog the handicapped parking system and infringe on the disability world to boot.
Long term this opens up the door for even more handicapped parking abuse, which system wide is already overrun with rampant and disgusting levels of abuse. Over the almost fifteen years of me requiring accessible parking I have paid witness to people using handicapped parking even though they don’t have a disability that necessitates it countless times, day in and day out. Many people frequently use a friend or relative’s placard, steal them, counterfeit them, forge a doctor’s signature for one, have a doctor friend write a prescription for one, etc. Allowing fully able-bodied pregnant women temporary handicapped parking privileges might ultimately widen that gap because of how easy it will be for them to keep using the parking after they give birth. The purpose is to allow pregnant women temporary use of handicapped parking only until childbirth, but I guarantee you that in many instances that won’t be the case. Many will keep using it after childbirth until the temporary period runs out, and even more will renew their temporary placards for a permanent one because in many cases you can do it online or through other fairly easy means that nobody will double check to ensure that it’s legit. Unfortunately, that happens all the time. Case in point: a friend told me that a co-worker of his has claimed to be pregnant three times over the last few years just so that she can park in close “stork” spots. Ridiculous.
Lastly, this type of legislation with the premise of granting able-bodied people disability status is usually unfair to those of us with real disabilities, and the biggest reason why is because there’s never a two-way street, quid pro quo. In other words, you see many instances like this where able-bodied folks can take advantage of privileges specifically set up to accommodate people with disabilities (e.g. parking, automatic door openers, wider public toilets stalls, etc.), accommodations we fight really hard for, but there’s hardly such a thing as people with disabilities getting the chance to do something specific for able-bodied people. For example, there is no such thing as passing legislation that will grant me the temporary ability to walk up stairs if I have a meeting in an inaccessible building. And even if that were possible I most certainly wouldn’t be infringing on an accommodation specifically provided to able-bodied folks. That may be a petty or unrealistic gripe, but it is a very real one nonetheless.
So in instances like this where legislators make it ok for able-bodied people to use handicapped parking, whether they’re pregnant of not, when even I can’t use it all the time because so many able-bodied people abuse the system, it makes it extra frustrating. In general, I’m pro-accommodations but count me out as an anti-fan of this one.
Do you think able-bodied pregnant women should handicapped accessible parking privileges? Why or why not?