Disabled driver needs that parking space But able-bodied often grab it first, despite the signs

September 02, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Carl L. Jarrett of Finksburg isn't launching a crusade, but he would like to get one point across: Able-bodied drivers who park in spaces reserved for the disabled cause more than minor inconvenience.

Mr. Jarrett, his wife and their only daughter, Evelyn Webster, are all disabled and rely on parking spaces for the handicapped.

"I don't want anyone to help me," he said. "I want to do it myself. I just want to go where I want to go and get out."

Mr. Jarrett has been forced to drive to the end of a parking lot to get a space wide enough to accommodate the wheelchair lift on his van -- the reserved spaces were filled by cars lacking handicapped license plates or permits that hang from the rear-view mirror. His daughter has been cursed after asking able-bodied drivers to move their cars.

In the worst incident in his experience, Mr. Jarrett said, he and his son in-law, Michael Webster, returned to the van at a shopping center to find a car without handicapped identification squeezed between their van and the car parked in the adjacent handicapped space.

To use the wheelchair lift, Mr. Webster had to back the van out into the traffic lane. Had Mr. Jarrett been alone, he would have been unable to get into the van until the other car was moved.

In November 1989, less than a year after Mr. Jarrett had retired as a sheet metal worker, both of his legs had to be amputated. Mr. Jarrett hadn't known that he had diabetes, a disease that caused loss of feeling in the soles of his feet. He had picked up nails and staples in his feet, which became infected, then gangrenous.

Helen Jarrett, also a diabetic, is recuperating after her remaining foot was amputated due to gangrene. Their daughter, Evelyn Webster, suffers spinal nerve problems and can walk short distances only.

The family has handled parking problems on its own rather than file formal complaints or contact an advocacy group.

The Jarretts' problem was the most frequently cited complaint at a series of citizens forums conducted two years ago by the Governor's Council for Individuals with Disabilities, reported Lisa Williams, executive assistant.

The council "gets calls all the time from people in similar situations," Ms. Williams said.

The state Motor Vehicle Administration reports that 127,000 Maryland motorists had license plates or parking permits for the disabled in 1991-1992.

Ms. Williams said the governor's council reports parking violation complaints to county offices for the disabled, in counties where such offices exist. Carroll County does not have such an office.

The governor's council doesn't deal directly with individual complaints, but it is working with the Motor Vehicle Administration on a program to emphasize the law during October, Disability Awareness Month, she said.

Mrs. Webster agreed that educating the public is important, but added that she would like to see "the police do their job and give tickets more often."

State police enforce the handicapped parking law "if we're called upon or we observe violations," said 1st Sgt. Stephen C. Reynolds. He said the Westminster barracks gets only an occasional call.

Westminster city police respond similarly. "If we're called by merchants or the general public, we go out and check, and, if there's a violation, it is ticketed," said Cpl. Rick May, police spokesman. Officers and the downtown meter monitor also issue tickets if they see a car violating the handicapped parking law, he said.

He was unable to say how many calls city police receive or to estimate the number of handicapped parking tickets they write annually.

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