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jeremy thorpe
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"Disabled" or "able?"

24 January 2014, 12:32

Mea  culpa. I’m guilty. Yes, I’m the person who occasionally parks in disabled parking spots. By “occasionally” I mean maybe once every couple of months max and only as a last resort, but a couple of weeks ago I got caught out and yelled at – which is why I’m writing this letter. I’ve probably already managed to upset some of you – but, before you condemn me outright, please allow me to have my say – as there are a couple of mitigating factors.

Firstly, as anyone who’s used the Victory Park shopping centre in Joburg over the past few years will know, about half the usable, open parking was removed recently when a new Woolworths was built. It was really clever of Victory Park management……they doubled the number of supermarkets and halved the parking! Yes I know there’s extra parking around the new Virgin Active gym, but it’s on a different level and miles from the supermarkets, so it’s useless if you want to do some shopping at Pick n Pay or Woollies.  

Which was what I wanted to do on a recent Saturday morning. I arrived fairly early – around 9am – but the open parking was already choc-a-bloc.  I drove around a couple of times but still no joy, so I took a chance and dived into a disabled parking slot. I only needed a few items, so I knew I wouldn’t be more than 10 minutes or so.

10 minutes later, loading my purchases into the car, I was confronted by a rather aggressive middle-aged man who demanded to know why I was in the disabled spot without the relevant sticker. I said, “Yes, I’m sorry….” and started explaining what I’ve said above. He wasn’t interested. He didn’t want to hear what I had to say, only for me to listen to his ranting.

I suddenly realized he’d approached me on foot and wasn’t using crutches or a walking stick. So I asked him if he was disabled? He said “That’s none of your business!” Well, actually, seeing as it was him making such a fuss, I think it was my business – and eventually he raised his trouser leg. I saw what could have been a brace, or maybe a prosthesis. Whatever it was, he didn’t seem to be having any trouble walking .

He got louder and more aggressive, probably because I wasn’t on my knees begging forgiveness! He called me a “selfish pig” and several other choice terms until I lost patience and told him to f-off! As I was driving away, I saw him sounding off to a young guy who’d parked in the disabled parking slot next to the one I’d used..

So while I’m prepared to admit my guilt in parking in a disabled parking slot, this particular incident is really the fault of Victory Park management. To them I say….find us some more parking so that generally law-abiding people like me aren’t tempted to use the disabled parking.   

The other issue is… what exactly constitutes “disabled?” Oscar Pistorius is “disabled” but he can still run the 400 in 49 seconds.  He’s also pretty handy with a gun! Both he and amputee swimmer Natalie du Toit have competed against able-bodied athletes - and I doubt whether either of them have the same sense of entitlement that seems to characterize many so-called “disabled” people who so jealously guard their precious parking lots.

My dad is 90. In the Second World War he was an RAF bomber pilot. Today he’s increasingly frail, but he still drives to the shops and, despite being genuinely deserving of preferential parking, he wouldn’t consider it. He has something many so-called “disabled” people don’t seem to have.  It’s called “pride.”      


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