Wednesday, July 07, 2010

today : I address an uncomfortable truth

Anyone who might look at my blog would rightly conclude that I have two major obsessions. The first is teaching and education (main sub-category: teacher stress). The second is disability (main sub-category: disabled parking). You might as well plug away at things that interest and affect you.

So I do. Hence this piece about disabled parking.

Yesterday I went to
Ikea. Because I can't walk and Ikea is designed as a walking experience, and because they had a sale on and the place was crazy packed, and because I never buy anything from Ikea having become bored with it in the mid-1990s, I stayed in the car whilst that day's missus and a couple of other friends went inside to ooh and aah over furniture, rugs and the like.

I'd initially planned to go in, but on top of everything I'm suffering shin splints at the moment and couldn't face it. Still, I needed to park the car in a place where I might nip into the cafe for a coffee or use the toilet. I waited for a disabled spot for five minutes or so.

There was a space available, but it was being occupied by a young couple who were loading their car with probably
unnecessary dowel and canvas laundry hampers, throw cushions and what seemed liked a dozen flat-packed book-shelves. They knew they were in a disabled space because I waved my blue badge at them and, having seen it, they carefully made sure they didn't look my way after that. When they finished loading I made sure I encroached on their reversing space as much as I could. The guy carefully reversed out of the space, still desperately trying not to catch my eye as he turned his head. He couldn't help it, and all four of the occupants of my car made obscene hand gestures at him.

After parking I did go inside to use the toilet, but skipped the cafe because the queue was huge. Like the kind of queue that would form if George Clooney and Megan Fox were giving out free sex. It seems that Ikea, for some people, is as much about meatballs, hot dogs, fizzy drinks and crisp-breads as it is about household goods.

Back in the car I decided to just listen to the radio and/or read to pass the time. I soon started to watch the people who were using the disabled parking bays. Over the course of the next hour I saw about 30 different people come and go. I counted two who had a discernible disability and two whom were elderly.

Disabled parking is a knotty issue both for the disabled and also the non-disabled. The disabled get angry and frustrated when there is one disabled space for an entire theatre or supermarket or when the disabled bays are used at will by people who are not properly credentialed and whose only impediment is sheer laziness.

Non-disabled people often feel that the disabled are getting some kind of privileged treatment. All those lovely convenient spaces by the door at Asda are a forbidden foreign land. And we all want what we can't have (and it's driving us mad, and it's all over our fay-ay-ay-ay-Ace).

I can understand their sense of
aggrievedness. So many of the people with Blue Badges apparently have nothing wrong with them. I watch people pull into the reserved spots and plenty of times they will RUN into the supermarket. These people with restricted mobility will skip and gambol like young foals across a Spring meadow. You half expect them to do flick-flacks past the trolley shelter and end with a piked double-back.

Outside Ikea I got out of the car to stretch my legs for a minute and was standing on my two walking sticks. I watched as four youngsters in a Vauxhall Corsa pulled into a space right in front of me. Hopping out, the male driver said something to his female companion. I could tell that he was showing off how easy it was to park using Granny's blue badge. They laughed smugly and then both momentarily looked at me. I saw the micro expressions (the ones that Derren Brown or Tim Roth in that TV show are so good at spotting) of sheer guilt and paranoia that crossed their faces for half a second. Two young couples - probably nice enough people, but choosing to abuse the system for the sake of a few yards and a bit of convenience. My unexpected presence reminded them of how they were behaving.

But who can blame them? After all, EVERYONE does it. It's like driving at 38 in a 30 zone, or torrenting a few albums and films. Everyone's life is hard in its own way, and saving a bit of time and energy isn't surely a crime?

I have a relative with a Blue Badge. The other week we were at some family do and bemoaning the fact that parking near the restaurant was hard. There were no disabled spots at all - just a general on-street pay-and-display that Blue Badge holders could use for free. She told me that, since a couple of years ago when her
Motability car was done over and her badge stolen, she never used it in town.
"I always park in the Wunda-Park Multi-storey. They have security patrols." In fact, that very evening, she informed me, she knew what the parking round the restaurant was like and had used the Wunda-Park.
"It's only a ten minute walk," she said.

About half a mile.

"It's only about half a mile from the restaurant."

What amused me more than anything is that she didn't seem to have a clue that she was making herself look stupid, or worse than that, fraudulent, given that her car is paid for by higher rate
DLA, and her blue badge is predicated on her inability to walk any significant distance, and she lives in a house specially provided for, located and designed for the ease of the disabled. My conclusion is that she has convinced herself that she is entitled. And she feels so entitled that she has lost sight completely of reality.

And there are many, many people like her. People who perhaps have been ill at some time, or broken a limb and saw it as a chance to get free stuff. People who got better and forgot to mention it because a free car is pretty habit-forming. People whose problems are much more than physical - who enjoy playing the victim and need a reason to justify it. Or people who simply lie, exploiting a system that is bizarre and inconsistent.

I know many properly disabled people who have really struggled to get any help. They are turned down and re-examined again and again. Then there are the people who seem to get everything, in spite of the fact that they are lying. And their lying must be unbelievably brazen. When a doctor puts them through a mobility test, they must give Oscar-worthy impersonations of a real disabled person.

Between the self-deceiving, the fraudsters and liars, and the people who use stolen badges or borrowed badges, it would not be outrageous to think that a majority of the people parked outside Ikea are cheats who have nothing wrong with them apart from a burning sense of entitlement, laziness and selfishness. It's hard to measure. You could ask people if they are selfish, fraudulent liars, but I am guessing the results would be patchy.

In the meantime disabled people are further marginalised. Not only do people have the natural resentment of others getting something more, but they are led to being suspicious on top. I have heard people make comments about disabled badge holders that verge on hatred. People who are apparently decent, caring folks develop a blind-spot. Badge holders end up on a par with jobsworth traffic wardens, speed cameras and endless pointless roadworks.


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