Why Nasty Notes on the Cars of Handicapped Parking Violators Is a Bad Idea
As a disability writer and advocate, I often come across articles during my research discussing how people react to finding nasty notes that accuse them of parking illegally in handicapped spaces. I have come to the conclusion that these notes do more harm than good and are ineffective in curbing people from illegal parking.
Why we Need Handicapped Parking Spots
The idea behind handicapped parking is to enable people with physical disabilities to access public places more easily. People in wheelchairs can access ramps and people who have trouble walking do not have to travel so far to a front door. Being able to park in front also helps people with mobility issues to be safe (can you imagine navigating a parking lot in a wheelchair?). Some people with cognitive issues may need a space so they can find their cards easily.
How People Become Handicapped Parking Vigilantes
Illegal use of handicapped parking spaces is a global problem. There are people who are just “popping into the store for a minute” and those who ignore signs for special parking for their own selfish reasons. Some people assume that any cars they suspect of illegally taking a space are uncaring, self-serving, and inconsiderate.
These people had made it their mission to identify those who break the rules, including those who have legal handicapped parking permits. Some post pictures of violators’ cars on “walls of shame” on social media. Others will become so angry that they vandalize the cars of assumed violators by smashing their mirrors, ruining their windshield wipers, or damaging their cars in other criminal and illegal ways.
The vigilantes may confront people directly that they feel are breaking the rules, but many leave anonymous notes. A review of recent articles about the nasty notes that vigilantes leave show common threads I have summarized below.
- "I saw you walking and you seem to walk fine. Show some respect and don't park here."
- "Did you forget your wheelchair?"
- “Are you in a hurry or just lazy?
- "Because of your inconsiderate parking, you took enough room for a whole zoo.”
- "I don’t like domineering, egotistical or simple-minded drivers and you are obviously one of these. F--- you."
- *I wish you an early transmission failure on the express way.”
- “Change and become a decent person, will you?”
- “Saw that there is nothing wrong with you. Know that God is watching you.”
- “You inconsiderate b----, using a spot when neither you or your child are disabled. You are setting a bad example for your child.”
- “Shame on you for using a space meant for people in wheelchairs.”
Why People Should not Leave Nasty Notes
It is probably a waste of time to give notes
Vigilantes assume that their rude notes will make parking violators feel shame and guilt when confronted and stop their illegal behavior. This is ineffective with people who truly are selfish and feel entitled to do whatever they want. The worst offenders are unlikely to be affected by nasty notes.
The person probably has a physical disability
When people have permits, they got them because they have physical disabilities or have a family member with mobility issues. Much of the public, however, have limited ideas of what physically disability looks like.
In fact, physical disability has many forms that do not involve wheelchairs. It is possible that the person is an amputee with a prosthetic limb that is hidden under clothing. The person may have cancer or have had surgery that impacts their ability to walk. Some permits are issued to people who have memory problems due to conditions such as brain cancer and may have difficulty remembering where they parked their cars.
Some non-disabled people have permits because they take family members shopping or to appointments. The non-disabled may return to their cars to get something or to put heavy packages in the back while their disabled loved one is shopping. Vigilantes may spot them and mistake them for violators.
The people using these spaces may have conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), which may vary their ability to walk. One day, the person may be in a wheelchair. Another day, they may be on crutches. Yet another day, they may seem to be able to walk fine. These people may feel proud of themselves of being able to walk after difficult surgery or on a rare good day only to find a nasty note on their windshield.
The notes are one-sided
Notes are usually anonymous and one-sided. The person receiving the note has no chance to explain their circumstances if they want to do so. The recipient feels angry, frustrated, humiliated and powerless.
Demeaning comments are hurtful
No one has the right to belittle another person by calling them stupid, selfish, inconsiderate, or lazy. Name-calling and vulgar language is degrading and uncalled for. This behavior is abusive.
Some Alternatives to Nasty Notes
Explore Legal Options
In my city, each handicapped parking spot has a sign that includes a hotline where people can call and report violators. At the bottom of the sign is a warning that violators could face steep fines. Violators think twice about using a handicapped parking spot if they knew they might have to face a hefty law enforcer and a huge fine. My city also has an enforcement team that patrols popular areas to spots cars without permits and possible permit use violations.
Many communities have similar systems in place to deal with parking violations. Some cities and states have commissions or committees set up to deal with these types of disability issues. Some organizations and disability advocates have set up pages on social media dedicated to discussing these issues and taking action, if needed.
Educate the Public
Media coverage of how nasty notes affect people who are genuinely physically disabled does help to educate the general public about the users of handicapped parking. It is unfortunate, however, that a person with a real mobility issue must be verbally abused, humiliated, embarrassed, and publicly shamed before light is shed on this issue.
Disability advocates have come up with some creative ways to raise public awareness about permit parking. One European parking lot set up a hologram that was triggered when someone parked in a handicapped space. A mini movie showed a disabled man in a wheelchair who explained and demonstrated why he needed the space.
A photo on European social media showed wheelchairs strategically lined up in several handicapped parking spaces. Each unit had a sign conveying a message loosely translated as: “Back in just a minute.” Today’s technology provides many opportunities to use humor and other means to educate people about the proper use of handicapped parking spaces.
Some disabled permit holders keep copies of documents or business cards that outline their conditions to show people who confront them. Some even put them on their dashboards to try to avoid getting nasty notes.
After reviewing many articles about parking violations from such far-flung places the United Kingdom and New Zealand as well as North America, I have come to the conclusion that nasty notes don’t work and are harmful. They will probably upset and anger innocent people with mobility issues who already face many challenges. These notes also frustrate and enrage their caregivers and loved ones.
The disability community and their advocates need to continue to educate people about how handicapped parking places are used by the people who needed them. People who write nasty notes should explore more positive ways to ensure that disabled people can access the parking spaces they need.
U.K. Mom of a Child With a Disability Finds 'Hurtful' Note on Car, The Mighty
How Dare You Judge my Handicap Sticker, National Pain Report