Not an all-access pass

Issue: BCMJ, Vol. 58, No. 8, October 2016, page(s) 436 Editorials
David R. Richardson, MD

“Excuse me, are you wearing one of those new Fitbits?” I asked a healthy looking woman in her 40s while shopping.

“Oh, yes, I am. Not only is it stylish but it tracks my activity. I do between 5000 and 10 000 steps per day,” she answered proudly.

“Wow, that’s really good, especially for someone with a physical disability,” I replied.

“What are you talking about?” she queried.

“On the way in I noticed that you parked in a disabled parking spot,” I remarked, at which point our conversation came to an abrupt end.

As I was driving up to the store all of the parking spaces were full except for the disabled one so I parked down the block. I was a little taken aback when this woman pulled in to the disabled spot and came into the store I was in. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything, but I get tired of the way people misuse these parking passes. I should mention that this woman did have a valid SPARC BC pass hanging from the rearview mirror of her vehicle.

SPARC BC is the organization that administers the disabled parking program in our province. SPARC isn’t a misspelling of a small fiery particle thrown from a fire; it stands for Social Planning and Research Council. I perused their website and a few rules jumped out at me. Specifically, only the permit holder is allowed to use the parking pass, and they can’t use it unless they actually get out of the vehicle after parking.

I’m sure many of you get requests to fill out the medical information on the SPARC application. The criteria are quite strict, and I am often surprised by the patients who ask me to complete a request for a permit. I have patients who have been begging me for years to complete the form because walking is painful for them. I have been called cruel and mean when I decline, despite explaining that their obesity-related illnesses of diabetes and mechanical back pain would be better served by parking as far away as possible and walking.

One senior patient who requested a pass became quite offended when I asked them to outline the nature of their disability. “Well, I’m old,” was the answer. The statement that age wasn’t a disability was met with the snide comment, “Well, just wait until you get old, doctor.”

Family members also request parking passes for their disabled nondriving relatives. They plan to use the pass when taking grandma out shopping or on other errands. I frequently get the impression that the pass will become a well-used regular fixture in their vehicle. When asked why they can’t drop grandma off at the door and then go park the car, more snide comments drift my way. Again, the individuals making these requests often have BMIs that would benefit from an increase in physical activity.

Now, the majority of the requests I receive are legitimate. And I am struck by the courage and fortitude of the majority of my disabled patients and aging seniors who would only apply for a permit as a last resort, and often have to be coerced into taking this necessary step. I hope to act similarly if I am faced with new challenges as the years pass. So, lastly, I would like the physicians of BC who complete SPARC applications to keep in mind that this valuable program is a privilege that shouldn’t be abused.