I want to start off by letting everyone know that parking closest to my destination isn’t a big deal to me. I feel lazy parking so close because I am healthy and active. I have always said I wouldn’t mind a couple handicap parking spaces in the back of parking lots. I use a Bruno crane to transfer my wheelchair from the bed of my truck to my driver door so a little extra room is needed. Handicapped parking spaces are needed up close for some disabilities, but not mine so I like to leave them open if possible.
On my way to work I thought I would get a cold drink because it was over 100 degrees outside so I pulled into a gas station. I parked in the only handicapped site on the lot. Right after I turned my truck off I noticed there were no hash marks on the ground by my driver door and the car next to me, on the passenger side, was extremely close. I double checked to make sure I was in a handicapped parking space. I was, the sign was right in front of my truck so I figured the car next to my passenger side shouldn’t be there. This is nothing new, I see it every day. Vehicles without handicapped parking tags parked in handicapped sites and cars double parked in handicapped sites. If I say something the issue usually ends in a confrontation so I usually stay hushed. Now the car was between my truck and the building so I started thinking again. Is a curb in front of the gas station? If so where is a ramp? I started my truck shifted to reverse and rolled back until I saw the curb. This automatically tells me that the ramp was blocked by the car. My two options were to find another establishment or flag someone down inside to see if the car could be moved. No way should I have to drive around looking for another gas station so I took the flagging down approach which worked rather quickly. The first man that came out told me it was the owner’s car and that’s his space when he is there. I couldn’t fathom the fact that the owner of this business thinks it’s his space when its real use is for a wheelchair lift that extends from a van which provides a clear path large enough for a wheelchair to get to the ramp. The owner came out and walked to my passenger window. While I was asking him to move his vehicle he interrupted me very rudely before I could tell him why. He said the spot in front of me is where I needed to park my truck. I thought in my head, “I’ve been in a wheelchair for 5 years. I’m sure I know what a handicap spot looks like.” I told him that I understood where the handicap spot was and he was in it. He became more agitated and his voice grew louder as he told me this was his property. He thought as a business owner he had no rules. I thought to myself, this is America sir and there is a little something called the Americans with Disability Act that can prove you wrong in a huge way.
I tried a different approach beseeching his capitalistic side. I told him I just want to be able to enter his store and buy a cold drink. A man walking by heard our disagreement over the car and parking space. The conflict continued to grow larger which I didn’t want to happen in the first place. The man agreed with me while telling the owner of his multiple knee surgeries. While recovering he explained how he required a wheelchair. I could see the store owner getting angrier and angrier as the man was telling him ‘you will never know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. Being in a wheelchair changes how you look at the most simple things in life. I couldn’t have agreed more with that guy because I know my thought process is nothing like it was prior to my accident. I took for granted the luxury of having a pair of legs that took me where ever I needed to go without a thought about it. Now I have to plan ahead where I am going to park so that I can get out of my car. Then evaluate the path available so that I safely arrive to my destination. Is there a curb? How high is the curb? Is there a ramp available? What is the surface like, smooth or uneven? On top of all that will my wheelchair fit on or through the path?
The store owner was still arguing with us. He looked at me and said I couldn’t park where I was because I was blocking the walk way to his store. Again I could not believe what he was saying. Here I was a customer who required a handicapped parking space being refused the spot because the owner was parked in it. His primary concern was that my car was blocking the other customers from entering his store. He was right the curb was red and the words no parking had been painted on the ground. The only reason I was parked there was to ask him to move his car from the handicapped parking spot so I could buy something from his store. After some convincing he told me he would move his car so I could shop. I did a loop around the gas pumps while he moved his car to the side of the building. He then walked to the area designated as a no parking zone and pointed childishly to the red words painted on the pavement NO PARKING. I’m guessing this was his way of winning. He was letting me know that where I parked was wrong too. I pulled right next to him. He was already in the process of saying something about no parking. I wasn’t going to explain why I had to park there again. I lost all interest in giving this man any type of currency. He has no respect for customers. I simply asked why he had to act in this manner when all I wanted was to give him my business. His voice grew loud again as he shouted things in another language. The only thing I could do next was tell him that I chose to no longer purchase anything from his store. He yelled again saying I needed to leave his property. At this time the guy who witnessed the incident and came to the defense of all wheelchair users dropped the things in his hands and walked out of the store. As he walked past the owner he said you’re not getting any business from me either. I laughed and drove away. That experienced validated there are wonderful people who care and will speak up for the rights of others. The unsung hero of the day was the man who pleaded the case for all wheelchair users. I also learned where you park speaks volumes to your character.
An update on the store owner who believes handicapped spaces are for his own personal use. I have passed this franchise gas station several times and I see the owner still has no respect for disabled customers. He is parked in the same spot every day. I shake my head and try to let it go but I can’t. I feel for others with disabilities. We have to overcome so much in our daily lives that finding a parking spot shouldn’t stressful situation. I’m not one to make a larger issue than what it should be so this is a hard on my soul.
This isn’t right! I in no way want any compensation from this man but I feel he needs to learn how to make his business handicap accessible. Losing two customers wasn’t enough for him to change his ways. My thought is to contact the franchise so that they can remind him that his actions are illegal. Some people told me to sue him because I can make a lot of money from this situation. I don’t work that way because I don’t let greed tamper my personality. All I want is other disabled American’s to have the right to park and enter businesses. People with disabilities make a large part of the population and it’s important we are able to purchase goods so the economy continues to grow. I am a proud American and even prouder American with a disability. I would like to know your thoughts on a simple way to resolve this conflict with legal action. What action would you take in this situation?