Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Handicapped Parking Spots

It's a drizzley, bleary kind of day here in Anchorage. Yesterday we were inland, smothered by the smoke from thousands of acres of forest fires, sweltering under the heat and humidity. Today we are next to the Gulf of Alaska, clenched in the grip of its wet, cold fingers. I've been spending the last half hour or so just looking out the window at the rain, watching the pavement in the parking lot get wetter and wetter, observing the slouch of the leaves on the tree branches around the edge of the hotel.

That's when I noticed it. There are at least 10, and perhaps a dozen, handicapped parking spots here at this hotel. This is a relatively new property, or at least the parking lot is relatively new. The building seems it as well. Thanks to the advent of the ADA, you find more handicapped parking spots at newer properties, be they hotels or shopping malls or whatever. The more interesting thing is how many of them seem to be in use, full so much of the time. It makes me wonder what people did before, or was it perhaps that I just didn't notice.

I am about to make an observation totally unfounded by research data, subject to confirmation bias, and without substantiating facts. This means it is probably wrong. Nonetheless, here goes. I think there are two fundamental reasons behind the increase in the numbers of people using the handicapped parking spots.

First, there is an aging population. With age comes infirmity, at least for most of us. Those of us who are handicapped earlier in life, either through disease or illness, are far outnumbered by those for whom aging is the villain. As we age, we become more susceptible to the injuries of life, perhaps even more to the general failing of our bodies. We expect, and certainly see, more seniors as handicapped, or at least physically less able.

Second, the astounding level of obesity in American society has to have impacted the handicapped numbers. The self-inflicted wound of morbid obesity plays hell on knees, backs, feet, and all other parts of the human body. I see people who can barely walk the length of the potato chip aisle in Walmart thanks to their massive bulk and I wonder how they remain mobile. I see more of them in motorized shopping carts and scooters, so I know they don't walk as much as they should.

Since part of the requirement to get a handicapped card is difficulty walking 100 feet, it's no surprise that someone over 300 pounds needs a handicapped tag, especially if they are over 40 years of age, when the body really feels the effects of that added weight. I wonder if that requirement is helping, or hurting. I get a sense that doctors are more willing to give out handicapped tags than they are to tell someone they need to lose weight. But remember, I have no facts to back this up; it is pure speculation on my part.

I know some may see this as a judgmental post, targeted perhaps at the aging or the obese. It's actually my own personal observation. I don't see all that many wheelchairs and walkers in use by those in handicapped spots. I know some have hidden injuries; I make no assumptions. They have a tag; they can park. I'm just glad that there are plenty of handicapped parking spots these days. It looks like we are going to need them.

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