As Mom aged, her ability to get around diminished. Macular degeneration eroded her vision. Her bones, thinned by osteoporosis, began to bend, compress and break. By the time she came to live near us, she needed help to walk. She enjoyed the collapsible wheelchair rides from the car to church, visiting or shopping.
Because of her disability, we qualified for a handicapped-parking sticker we hung on the rearview mirror. With this treasured passport, we traveled to the special land of the handicapped-parking spot. It was nice being close to the entrance. Pulling the wheelchair out of the trunk, we easily got Mom where she needed to go.
That is a long lead up to a conversation of charity versus laws, the never-ending debate of self versus society. Government mandates handicapped-parking rules. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a law with penalties. That is what governments do; they make laws and pay people to enforce them. There is little charity in that.
Charity would be for all of us to naturally think of others and park as far away from a store as possible. First, it would obligate us to walk more, and second, it would open up the parking spots nearer to the supermarket for those in need.
Unfortunately, not all of us are that thoughtful all of the time. We are not mean, rude or evil, we are just in a hurry. Most of us would not consider how tough it is for someone to push a chair across a crowded parking lot.
So even though a government made it a law, it is not a bad idea. The large painted symbols of a person in a wheelchair remind us to park elsewhere. In that action, we could all agree, the government was benevolent.
In spite of the betterment of society because of the law, there are some who say handicapped parking is the camel’s nose in the tent. First, it is parking, and then who knows? Next, the government may make a law that everyone needs health insurance. People complain that it is Big Brother government.
But aren’t big brothers supposed to come to our aid when bullies mess with us? Isn’t there a role for them to teach us compassion and empathy? My older brother, my hero, had me covered. He taught me a lot about positive thinking. He still does to this day.
Without parking spots designated for those with disabilities, society would be imposing more challenges on them.
Now take this example from the parking lot into a hospital, where you get treatment when you or your child is ill or has a disability.
There is nothing virtuous about denying care to one in need.
I am all in favor of neighbor helping neighbor. When Dennis or Barry want to raise a barn, count me in. However, modern medicine, with its expensive and complex technology, is not hammering a bunch of boards together.
I learned of my mother’s death while I was in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. The next day, I took advantage of Montana’s interpretation of safe and prudent speed limits to race home. Pulling into a Wendy’s for a necessary and quick lunch, I started to cry when I saw a handicapped-parking stall. It sounds silly, but it made me think of my mom. It also made me thankful as I considered how incredible it is to live in a caring country.
There is much uncertainty about the changes in the health care laws. However, two major positive points include eliminating restrictions on pre-conditions and ending lifetime limits. Now in America a person with a disability has not only a parking spot but also a chance for health insurance.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing physician for 30 years and a hospitalist at Primary Children's Hospital and the University of Utah. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org