Parking: Disabled Parking

I went to the Sonoma County Fair last week. After trying to park in the disabled spaces in the lot closest to the gate I gave up and drove across the street to another parking lot where I easilty found a place.

Ten years ago when I went to the fair I was almost always able to find a parking place in the 38 spaces close to the fair entrance. Even as recently as three years ago, there would be a space or two during the weekdays. Now, in addition to the 38 spaces, across Brookwood Avenue is a lot with 120 additional spaces for people using disabled plates and placards. It is so busy on the weekend that even that lot can get filled.

It started me thinking about our numbers and our willingness to be public about our disability status. Twenty years ago there were ten disabled parking spaces at the Fair, now there are 158.

Are there more disabled people in Sonoma County? Probably. Are there more people, in general, going to the Fair? Attendance was down somewhat this year. So, why does the fair need so many more parking spaces? I believe the people who have different impairments are now willing to identity themselves as disabled. They needed a good reason to do so. One of the stronger coping mechanisms for disabled people is denial. We deny our marginalized status. We deny our physical and psychic pain. We deny our limitations. More than anything else, we deny the label. Most disabled people that know, and myself, have spent some time and energy trying to think of another term to describe ourselves. We do not want to take on the stigma.

So how did these people finally arrive at parking in a handicapped parking place? The benefits outweigh the costs. The fear of having a neighbor see a person parking in "that" lot and making assumptions about their able-bodied status had lost much of its sting over the past two decades. At the same time it just makes sense to park as close as possible if you have an impairment. And after years of seeing those blue spaces at the shopping center, the market, the theater the advantages were all too obvious.

This willingness to use disabled parking by Sonoma County Fair attendees marks a significant change in attitude. Now longer is it just those of us using wheelchairs or with other all-too-obvious impairments who avail ourselves of opportunities provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Would all these people filling the 158 places come to the Fair anyway? Some of them might have in years past. Many, though, would have provided a ready excuse as to why going to the Fair was not in the cards. Close, accessible parking will not completely eliminate barriers, but it sure helps.

I, for one, am glad to see that there are more of us out there than I ever expected. The latest census shows that disabled people make up almost 20 percent of the population. I am beginning to believe it.

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