DR RADICA MAHASE
LAST week I ordered curbside pick up from a restaurant in South Park.
When I arrived to pick it up, the spaces allocated for curbside pick up were occupied.
I called the restaurant to tell them that I was parked nearby and the CSR asked me if the "handicapped parking" was empty. I told her that it was and she said, "You can park there, it’s all right to park there."
I waited until one of the curbside parking spots became empty and I parked there. When the CSR came, I asked her if she was sure it was okay to park in the wheelchair parking spaces, if the company allowed that.
She replied, “Yes, you can park there when these spots are full, it’s all right.”
Sadly, that company is not the only local business that has been using designated wheelchair parking spots for curbside pick up. My friend Aditya, 42, started using a wheelchair five years ago after he was hurt in a vehicular accident. He drives a car that was modified to accommodate his chair and he generally doesn’t need much assistance.
However, since covid19 lockdown measures he has often found it difficult to do tasks that he was accustomed to doing.
“I never really had a problem shopping for my groceries, medications or even hanging out with friends. I know the places that are accessible to me and I can come out of the car and get to where I am going in my wheelchair. However, since last year it has become a bit more difficult to get to my regular places."
He said a popular supermarket in Chaguanas has converted some of the wheelchair parking spaces into curbside pick-up spaces and those are always full so he had to stop going there.
"The ones that have not been converted are almost always occupied by cars with non-wheelchair users. In some malls such as C3 Centre, there is always a security around the wheelchair parking spaces, so those are usually available.
"Isn’t it sad that I can only get a wheelchair parking space because a security has to make sure that regular drivers don’t park in them?
"Generally, I find that people in TT don’t really think about the importance of wheelchair parking spaces to those who use wheelchairs, like myself. To me, a wheelchair parking space is not a privilege, it is a necessity. I cannot park in a regular parking spot because there isn’t enough space for me to let down the ramp to come out of my car in my wheelchair. The wheelchair parking spots, especially in the newer malls, are usually wide enough for me to disembark my vehicle and they are usually located near to ramps so I can get to where I am going on my own.
"I understand that covid19 made things different and that the change to curbside pick up is a necessary one as we try to curb the spread of the virus.
"However, I do not believe that that change should come at the expense of wheelchair users. I believe that businesses and shopping malls need to be considerate of those who depend on wheelchair parking spots and make sure that they are available as wheelchair parking spaces not as curbside pick-up spaces,” he said.
Another person who relies on wheelchair parking spots is Amanda. Her ten-year-old son Jayden has cerebral palsy and cannot walk, but Amanda usually takes him everywhere in his wheelchair.
“So many times, we will get to a place and the wheelchair parking spots are occupied by non-wheelchair users.
"Once I asked someone to move and she told me that there were other parking spots available in the car park, why I don’t park there. I tried to explain that I needed the extra space to take out the wheelchair and get my son in it but she refused to leave, until the security guard came and told her she could not park there. And even as she was driving off, she told me that I wanted everything easy.
"I don’t understand why it is so difficult to get Trinis to understand that the wheelchair parking spots are there for wheelchair users. It’s not that we want things easy, it’s a necessity. If I can’t park there it becomes difficult to take my child out; it is unsafe to take him out of the car and put him in his chair in a regular parking spot.
"Why is it so difficult for people to understand that wheelchair users matter too?”
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T