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My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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Wheelchair User’s Car Clamped – An Outrage

It’s an outrage. The car of a wheelchair-bound woman was clamped, not once, but TWICE, reports the Waikato Times. Apparently the first time, the permit had fallen off the dashboard. This time, she left home with an expired permit by mistake. Her vehicle was clamped and she apparently had difficulties getting the clamped removed. It is indeed an outrage. I am a wheelchair user, and you might be surprised to hear I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for Mrs Adams.

Language, language

First, let’s get something out of the way. Bruce Holloway, the author of the piece, used the term "wheelchair bound". That term really gets my blood going. I would have hoped that someone in the press would be aware of appropriate language when talking about people with disabilities, but I guess I’m expecting too much. I don’t care much for Political Correctness, but I do believe in the power of language. "Wheelchair bound" has an immediate impact on how we perceive the person that label has been applied to. The implication here is that if you use a wheelchair, you’re limited in some way. When in fact the wheelchair is a tool of freedom. It’s without the wheelchair that we’re limited. So by beginning the article with "wheelchair bound", Mr. Holloway immediately puts the reader in the frame of mind of "poor Mrs Adams".

Mrs Adams is a victim. She can’t help it, she’s wheelchair bound.

But… Waitaminute! Stop the press!!! Let’s backtrack a second.

Rights & Responsibilities

Some people with disabilities can get a parking permit allowing us to park in those parking spaces. Note, not all disabilities allow us to get a permit. With the right to use dedicated parking spaces, we have the responsibility to display the valid permit. No rights without responsibilities.

I have come across more than enough cars parked in mobility spaces without displaying parking permits, and often been unable to park because of it. I am sure that this has happened to Mrs. Adams as well. Those of us with disabled parking permits get angry when people without parking permits abuse the spaces and force us to risk our lives by parking across the lot because all disability spaces are being used by people who don’t have a permit.

We’ve all been asking for *something* to be done about it. The situation is dire in New Zealand. I don’t believe that clamping is the solution, but at least it’s *something* being done to try and get the message to parking abusers.

So I find it just a bit much that when something is being done about the situation, and we mess up and get caught, we then start crying "woe is me". No, we have to take responsibility for our actions, or lack thereof. If I forget to display my parking permit and get a ticket, or a clamp, I’ll be upset, but upset at myself. I’ll have deserved it.

Getting In Touch

The Waikato Times article continues to say that Mrs. Adams was unable to go to The Base administration office because it is on the second floor. Presumably, there is an elevator there. But there is renovation going on at The Base, which means it’s likely the elevators are out of commission. The Base’s site mentions that because of the $80 million redevelopment project, they have extra staff to assist shoppers, and there are security guards at each entrances. Further, a free phone number to the administration office has been made available to shoppers. Mrs. Adams may well have been unable to get to the administration offices, but I wonder why it took her 40 minutes to get in touch with administration office. Clearly she was able to get in touch with the newspaper, which doesn’t have security guards, extra staff, and a free phone number, so one expects she would have been able to get in touch with the power that be to get the clamp removed.

But she must have been able to get in contact with someone because the clamp was being removed at no charge (instead of the $150 previously quoted), as the reporter arrived.

Yes, clearly, there is a problem with clamping. There should be a mechanism to ensure people who have their cars clamped erroneously can get them unclamped. And if someone with a disability and a genuine parking permit gets clamped for not displaying the permit, there should be a mechanism to get them on their way as well, but they shouldn’t get off scot-free. They did, after all, forget to display their permit.

Obviously Genuinely Disabled

I guess one of the statements that really gets under my skin is this:

"But upon seeing Ms Adams paralysed from the chest down it is obvious she is genuinely disabled"

It is obvious she is genuinely disabled, eh? Because anyone can actually tell, just by looking at someone, whether they are paralysed or not? I have news for you… You can’t tell just by looking. You just can’t. The photo below is part of the wheelchair rugby team I’ve played with. Apart from the two people standing in the back, can you tell, just by looking, the couple people who can walk? Can you tell who has, or doesn’t have, a disability parking permit?

Photo of wheelchair rugby team
Manawatu Wheelchair Rugby Team

Besides, how about the many people who *can* walk, but have genuine disability parking permits? How about people with chronic congestive heart problems? You can’t tell just by looking at them, can you? And are they going to get clamped because the assumption is that if they can walk, they are not using a valid permit? Only a medical professional possessing all the relevant information can know whether or not someone is "genuinely disabled".

I’d have left a comment on the Waikato Times article, but that isn’t an option.

Ok, rant over. But I’d love to know what you think of the whole thing.

One thought on “Wheelchair User’s Car Clamped – An Outrage

  1. whereever this happened, i feel sorry for the lady. Of course in the pic. you are not going to know which guy can still walk. I call the police on cars that are parked in handicapped spots without the plates/plaques/and parked with the diagonal stripes. I should not have to drop off my kid at the curb and then park in the regular space with my ramp van!!! Oh and what bugs me also is when hummers,, have handicapped plaques parked in the spots, it just bugs me!!!!thanx

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