Carola is a disability advocate with many years of experience working in the disability community. She is also a freelance writer.
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 concluded 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 cars easily.
How People Become Handicapped Parking Vigilantes
Illegal use of handicapped parking spaces is a global problem. Some people are just “popping into the store for a minute,” and others ignore signs for special parking for their own selfish reasons. Some people assume that the drivers of cars they suspect are illegally taking a space is 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 articles about the nasty notes that vigilantes leave show common threads I have summarized below.
- "I saw you were 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 expressway.”
- “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. The person may be 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 feel proud of themselves because they can 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 know 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 helps educate the general public about the users of handicapped parking. However, it is unfortunate 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 is 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 as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and North America, I have concluded 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.
Don’t judge appearances. People with invisible disabilities don’t look Disabled, Invisible Disabilities Association
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
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Dennis Thorgesen from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on August 26, 2018:
In years past I never had much of an issue with notes or belligerent people, when it came to handicapped spots. Now, I have no issue at all with handicapped spots. I just don't use them PERIOD. Here the state requires people to turn in the old sticker to get a new one. Mine shattered to pieces so I have none to give them.
Now I deal with belligerent people because I have to use two parking spots, so I can get back in my vehicle.
I can tell you from personal experience being way out in a parking lot with a wheelchair is dangerous. I was hit by a truck who couldn't see me, his mirrors were not set up to see down.
At that point in time I only had one wheelchair. The truck broke it, so after I got out of the hospital I was bed-fast until they replaced it. I had been able to stand to transfer, that I lost for a year. They never caught the driver.
Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on August 25, 2018:
Thank you for such a well-written article. It is true that many disabilities are not readily apparent. Some of us can walk, but not for a long distance (arthritis, or other mobility issues or breathing difficulties) and probably use a motorized cart upon getting into the store
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on August 25, 2018:
Whether or not the person has a disability who parked in a parking place meant for those who have one, a step back is taken when people stoop to rude behavior to correct another bad behavior. Societies valuing the rights of people with disabilities often are those who value the rule of law. The suggestions you mentioned are valid and proactive versus reactive.
Great article with wonderful advice.
Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on August 24, 2018:
I'm glad you included samples of some of the notes people have left. They are pretty bad, and really reinforce your point.