Concerns over handicap parking spaces arise in Los Lunas

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Los Lunas resident Frank Cummings, a veteran of the Korean War, has only so much breath.

He uses an oxygen tank and has a lung capacity of only 24 percent, so handicap parking is very important to him. He can't walk very far or for more than a few minutes, and sometimes his legs give out, he said.

But finding an open handicap parking place is an issue for him, and often it is because someone has used a handicap parking place who shouldn't.

At the Valencia-Y-Center, where Cummings shops, the cars in the handicap spaces frequently don't have the handicap placard to show legal permit to park in those spots, he said.

To be polite, he has used the "OOPS" stickers for car windshields designed by GIMPPP, the handicap parking advocacy organization, that say, "I need to get in my parking place, please!"

But he doesn't use them anymore because people ignore them, and some have accused Cummings and GIMPPP founder, Linda Ingram, of cracking the windshield.

"So, I just call the police anymore now, and tell them verbally there is somebody parked in a handicap spot or in several of them," Cummings said.

Sometimes, the people who are handicapped sit in the handicap parking place in their car while their able-bodied spouse or family member runs into the store, he says.

Cummings approached a man sitting in his car in the handicap spot and asked him if the placard was his. He said it was his card, his wife had just gone into to the store, and he was waiting for her.

"To me, that's an abuse of the handicap placard," Cummings said.

But some people have become aggressive with Cummings when he has confronted them about using the handicap spots as a waiting place.

"One man was yelling and screaming so much, I couldn't get through to him that the placard was for him, not his son," Cummings said.

"The most disturbing thing that I see routinely is parents with their children present, using no placard or expired ones," said Ingram. "They're teaching their children to have no regard for others."

At the shopping center, some of the handicap spaces are faded, and some don't have an upright sign, Cummings said.

"It's kind of hard to see, but still, they're parking in there and they're parking where they have the (upright) sign in front of it, so I stop and call the police every time I see that," he said.

Commings has talked to managers at a few stores over the years, and they have tried to enforce the reserved parking, he said.

Businesses and other organizations are required by state statute to have ground markings and upright signs in front of handicap parking spaces, said Los Lunas Police Chief Roy Melnick.

If the ground marking is fading and there isn't an upright sign, writing an offender a violation won't hold up in court, he said.

About a month ago, Cummings wrote to the mayor and village council to request higher fines for handicap violations.

"We thought it should be more in line with Albuquerque," he said. "But just about every time I go down to the store, I see people using the handicap parking spots."

Some people borrow handicap placards from a family member to get close parking, and some people use outdated placards by turning them backward so the expiration date is hidden, Cummings said.

He watched an investigative piece by Channel 13 reporter Larry Barker, who found that some non-disabled employees of the Second Judicial District Attorney's Office were displaying handicapped parking placards that don't belong to them and occupy handicapped parking spaces outside the DA's office.

"He should have taken the police with him," Cummings said. "He was finding that the people were in charge of the handicap places were the ones that were violating them, and they didn't think anything of it. But people that are handicap think a lot of it."

According to Dr. Anthony Cahill, the division director of the Center for Development and Disability and chairman of the Governor's Commission on Disabilities, New Mexico has more than 55 thousand handicap placards, three times more than five years ago, but the number of handicap parking spaces has not been growing.

The demand for handicap parking grows as the population ages, and wounded soldiers return from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

While Los Lunas police officers are on their beat, they cruise through parking lots to check for violations of handicap parking when they can, the police chief said.

"I'll reinforce it and remind my community policing officers on Segways and bicycles to check them," Melnick said.

"Our goal is to change people's behavior by raising awareness of the problems that the abuse of handicap parking causes," Ingram said. "We ask everyone, have a heart for the disabled and end the abuse of handicap parking."

Ingram has had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for 47 years, and sometimes she has such severe pain in her feet she can barely walk at all, she said.

"I would just like people to be more aware of the handicap neighbors that they have, and be more thoughtful," Cummings said.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.