Joan Knowler tries her best to be nice.
But when able-bodied drivers park in spots reserved for people with disabilities, well…
“I get a little agitated and I call them out,” she says.
Knowler, 45, requires the use of a wheelchair due to a neck/back injury she suffered as a teenager which resulted in paralysis of her lower body.
For 28 years she’s handily managed to get around the city in her wheelchair as well as hauling it in and out of her car. Those things are no trouble for her, but the problems occur when the “handicap parking” space is occupied by someone who can clearly get around on two feet.
“Oh my goodness, people need some education…I try to be polite,” says the usually affable mom.
This is Access Awareness Week across North America and Knowler thought it was a good time for another lesson for Campbell River’s less-than-courteous motorists.
And a perfect example of what she often faces occurred Tuesday afternoon as she was heading out of work from Uniglobe River City Travel at the Tyee Plaza.
Her car was already parked in one of the wider handicap spots, but there was little room for her to manoeuvre due to a mid-sized work truck that was straddling the dividing line and parked too close to her driver’s side door.
“My husband Ed called me, because he had noticed it, and said, ‘you’re not going to be able to get into your car,’” she says.
So instead of getting mad, or even, the couple decided it was perfect opportunity to educate the public. Ed took photographs of his wife attempting to get into her car and then offered his assistance so that she could drive home.
“This happens all the time!” she says.
Mostly it’s not the close-parkers, but those who demonstrate willful blindness and park in the designated spaces because they’re unoccupied.
“People even argue with me,” she says with a laugh. “They tell me they’re just running into the store for a minute or whatever…”
Then there are the lazy shoppers who can’t be bothered to return their buggies and simply leave them in the handicap spots.
Knowler says she’s fortunate to have good mobility and has managed to wrangle herself and the wheelchair into the car, especially in tight spots. Sometimes she even has to enter through the passenger side, but she knows a lot of others with disabilities aren’t so agile.
“A lot of people just can’t do it,” she says. “Sometimes I even have to ask strangers to back out my car…and I wonder if they’re just going to drive away!”
As for Tuesday’s incident, Knowler noticed a sign on the back of the work truck which read, “How’s my driving?”
So she called the toll-free number listed below to let them know the vehicle was blocking her access.
“It turned out to be just a call centre. I had called in the afternoon and the truck was still there when I went to leave,” she says.
Access Awareness Week ends on Saturday, but Knowler is hopeful motorists demonstrate awareness, and good manners, year-round.
“The city is really good about ticketing vehicles parked in designated spots, but they can’t do it on the private lots,” she points out.