It was the first snowfall of the season and the asphalt was slick as I walked toward the grocery store.
A few yards away, a young man in a wheelchair was trying to gain control on the ice as he headed to the door.Another shopper and I hurried over to lend some stability to the wheel-chair.
Why, I asked him, did he park so far away? Weren't there parking spots specially designated for handicapped parking only a few feet from the entrance?
"Lots of them," he replied. "But other people always use them. I think I've actually parked in special parking four times in the six years I've used a wheelchair."
By this time we were close to the door. The parking slot on the end of each aisle of cars sported a sign that showed a wheelchair and said "Handicapped Parking Only." There were about 10 or 12 of them and every one was filled.
But not one of the cars parked in those slots had the special license plates that allow someone to park in a handicapped zone.
He was philosophical about it. "It's a pain. But if I get upset all the time by things like that, I'd be in a permanent state of irritation."
That trip to the grocery store started me looking at other places that have designated parking for people with mobility disabilities. I found the problem is pretty universal.
During busy times, like the legislative session or interim meetings, the designated parking spots at the State Capitol are always full. Most of the cars parked there don't belong.
One of the worst places is the parking lot at University Hospital. At any hospital, for that matter.
The parking lot is below ground, so cars enter on level four and wind their way down to level one. About one-fifth of the cars on the top floor are designated for handicapped parking. About one-fifth of the cars routinely parked there actually have a right to park there.
I don't get it. Maybe there's a belief that people who use wheelchairs don't go to the grocery store, or the State Capitol or hospitals. They do.
They eat as often as everyone else and must buy groceries. The Capitol building is handicap-accessible and there are a lot of people who use wheelchairs for mobility who have frequent business there.
The need for handicapped parking at a hospital speaks for itself. But there are always people wheeling their way up the hill to the hospital entrance because someone lazy and inconsiderate took the handicapped parking slots.
Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act last year to make life a little easier for people with all sorts of disabilities. It was, in a way, an acknowledgment that people don't do the things they should just because they should. Equal access has to be mandated.
I have listened to women who use wheelchairs discuss how even buildings with so-called handicap-accessible restrooms present problems. Some of them aren't big enough or wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Doors sometimes won't close if a wheelchair is inside.
Too many streets and sidewalks lack curb cuts, sloped areas that allow wheelchairs to cross the street. The list of barriers is almost endless.
Getting around is, literally, an uphill battle. And it's not going to get better until everyone gets involved in solving some of the problems. Most of us feel we can't do much about inaccessibility unless we're willing to demand that officials create things like curb cuts.
But there's one thing every one of us can do.
We can quit parking our cars where they don't belong - in spaces designated for people who have mobility handicaps.
Apparently some people don't walk very well. Or won't. It reminds me of the time a close friend was complaining that she got a ticket for parking in a handicapped zone. She had just run into the store for a minute to pick up some stuff she'd need for the weekend. She was going hiking with friends.
She didn't see the irony.
A few years ago, Utah started allowing people to issue warnings to people who park in designated spaces. It was an education program. Nothing is done about the first warning. After that it's a citation. I don't know if many people participate anymore.
I do know that the people who give out parking tickets need to get nasty about it. And the staff of grocery stores and hospitals, etc., need to post signs warning what will happen if you park illegally in a handicapped zone. Then they need to pick up the telephone and call a tow truck.