by W. Carol Cleigh
Last summer, following lots of work by disability activists, Illinois passed a new law allowing volunteers to write tickets for violations of handicapped parking. OK, I know that parking in our spots isn't the worst thing nondisabled people do to us. But I found it intriguing enough to volunteer when my town set up a program.
In 1997, the entire police department in Evanston, Ill. wrote 50 tickets for violations of handicapped parking. In the first 5 months of the program, with only 20 participants, we've written over 500--resulting in over $50,000 revenue for the city. I've written about 50 tickets in the 3 months I've been in the program.
I don't go out and "patrol" for violators like some folks. I just write tickets (5 or 6 at a time) as I go into the grocery store or when I'm out and about anyway.
I'd always assumed that those who didn't follow the rules are non-disabled friends or relatives using the placard of people who actually need it. Obviously our people would never break the rules and make it more difficult for someone else (ahem!).
But almost half the tickets I've written go to people who have a disability parking placard or plates on their car who are parked not in the parking spot but in the access area next to the space, which is illegal--it screws things up big-time for people like me who use a chair. If I can't get that door open all the way (I need at least 30" next to the car), I can't get back into the car after I come out of the store. I've written several on cars that were parked blocking a van's lift. I've written a few for expired placards (some of these used a magic marker to change the expiration date!).
A few people have come out and caught me writing their ticket; one tried to convince me that she "really deserved" a placard--she just hadn't gotten it yet! Since the state sends them in about a week, I didn't bite. Several have challenged my writing them a ticket since they were "just gone a minute." One tried to tell me that I should have come into the building to find him (ahem, ahem!).
Some challenge my right to write the ticket. I refer them to the police chief. Some refuse to take the ticket. One even put it on my car! I just give those to the cops and they send them out in the mail.
If folks get belligerent, I disappear. The police lieutenant who supervises the program says that if a volunteer gets hurt that would end the program.
One passenger who came out took the ticket from me and said "at least you have a trade," with more than a trace of condescension. He paid the ticket.
One claimed "I'm such a friend of the disabled you shouldn't ticket me." She'll pay it too, but I couldn't help wondering if she were such a friend of our community, why she would violate our hard-won rights.
With the change that allows volunteers to write tickets, the legislature also allowed us to go onto private property without permission. So every now and then I write a ticket on the Northwestern University campus--a couple of times I've gotten vehicles with official NU plates. I guess they expect campus police and they wouldn't ticket a car with official plates. But I would (a little devil made me love it).
I've also written a couple for paratransit drivers who were asleep in their vehicles. Our law does not allow paratransit vehicles to park there anyway.
Once I had to write up a Range Rover parked in my reserved space in my building! I tried parking on the street but I couldn't get over the mountains of snow into the building, so I did some errands. I came back an hour later to find he'd just left--so much for 'just running in.'
I find it emotionally satisfying to be able to do something as direct as writing a ticket for someone who violates my rights and blocks me out of my car or takes the only spot where I could get to where I'm going, causing me massive inconvenience. I found it really satisfactory when it was my reserved spot in the building since only a pure ableist bigot would park there and keep me out of my own home.
The bigger issue, of course, is about enforcing our rights so that our people can get the access we've worked for and we deserve. Since the program has gotten some publicity (a local TV station made it one of their "important events of 1998"). I've found that accessible parking is a lot easier to come by. The rate of violation is down dramatically. That means less money for the city, but more parking for us--which is exactly the point.
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