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Help for disabled people at last

Friday, April 24, 2015
Dirt Under the Nails

Well! Well! In this ridiculously backward country of ours, we are finally going to have a law that makes it illegal for fully-abled people to park in the handicapped spots! This is according to a media article, which recently reported on the Senate’s debate of the new Motor Vehicle Bill. 

Finally! Some legal help for differently-abled people against lazy, ignorant and heartless citizens who seem a dime-a-dozen these days. Just this week I followed a SUV into a business establishment, and the driver of this SUV proceeded to park in the ONLY handicapped spot that the company had in its large carpark. 

Out he jumped, followed by his young wife holding a baby. They then sauntered into the business place and walked throughout its long, large rows of stacked goods. Needless to say, the “security” who witnessed this, did nothing but sit on his chair, lounging in the cool breeze on this dry, tropical day. 

Blood boiling, I approached him and asked him to speak with the very well-abled couple about their inconsiderate deed. But apparently I was expecting too much as he allowed the couple to complete their shopping. Left to my own action, I wrote a note and stuck it on their windscreen. Upon my exit, the guard informed me that he did actually speak with them (after the fact), and that the man stated that his wife had had surgery. 

I politely educated the guard that they walked easily around the entire store, up and down the long aisles, without any problem and that the surgery, was simply an excuse. A surgery that allows one to walk community distances easily does not qualify one as “handicapped.” These people may very well end up as products of their own acedia. What goes around comes around.

This issue of handicapped parking and accessibility goes way deeper than just the development of a law. As we know all too well, enforcement of laws in Trinidad is a matter of convenience to the enforcer. There are also many levels that need to be considered in order for this law to be successfully implemented. Firstly, how will a policeman know that the car parked in the handicapped spot is that of a differently-abled or elderly person? 

There obviously needs to be a way of identifying such citizens’ cars so that they can be allowed use of the parking spot, be it through a sticker, or some other object to mark the vehicle. The next question that needs to be answered is what qualifies someone as differently-abled, and therefore able to get that identifying sticker for their vehicle? This question must be addressed, otherwise one will run into advantageous malingerers like the above. 

A process of establishing qualification and identification needs to take place in order for this law to be fair and successful. However, this process must be easy for a differently-abled individual. The locations, much unlike many offices in Town, must be accessible, with easy parking, and the process must not involve long waits or return visits, as many differently-abled or elderly people have difficulty with mobility and pain. 

The above is at the level of the law and policy-makers. But in this multi-level issue, there are many other factors to consider. Every establishment should have a certain ratio of normal parking spots to handicapped parking spots. This will avoid the above scenario as well, where the very large carpark had only one handicapped spot. 

It is also up to the management of the establishments to enforce the law. Many businesses do not have much of a police presence, and so enforcement of this new law is up to the business itself. Their security, if present, needs to get off their lounge chairs and monitor the handicapped spots. There is a new trend now, another example of laziness, where security puts large cones on the parking spots to block able-bodied people from parking there. 

As one of my patients put it, “now I have to get out the car and move the cone, as the security is often not around.” It’s six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. Security may as well not put the cone and let the differently-abled persons take their chances with the lazy population who steal their spots.

I have my reservations about the success of this new law. Don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful step in the right direction, and it should have happened a long time ago. However, as with many laws in Trinidad, it may be written in the books, but no enforcement occurs. So yes, I am very skeptical, and I wonder if it has been thought out in its entirety, so that it can be successful. 

Carla Rauseo, DPT, CSCS, ATRIC is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Certified Aquatic Therapy  Rehabilitation Instructor at Total Rehabilitation Centre in San Juan.


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