By Songyi Zhang
I did not realize how often I had seen the parking sign for disabled people in America until I started driving around to look for a parking space. On a busy day, it’s not easy to find a parking space near my local library. Cars are parked back to back on the street and side by side in the one-story garage. Yet, the parking space for disabled people is baldly empty. If this happens in China, eight out of ten non-disabled drivers will take the space without hesitation.
It is a law in America to give way to disabled people. Their parking space is especially reserved closest to the entrance of supermarkets, malls, movie theatres, post offices, restaurants, hospitals and any other office buildings. Buses have special access for disabled passengers. Museums, galleries, theatres, stadiums and other public venues, both indoor and outdoor, are accessible to disabled people. I saw more passengers on wheelchairs in the airport in America than in China.
On my way last year to Pittsburgh for grad-school, I stayed overnight with my family friend at a Best Western Inn on the outskirts of Grove City, PA. We were put into a room for the disabled on the ground floor for the convenience of my four large suitcases. A parking space with the disabled parking sign was right in front of our room. I knew that space was for whoever stayed in the room. But we could not park there. The woman at the reception desk clarified this to us in an official tone, “You can’t park there. It’s only for the disabled people who have the approved disabled license. The cops will cruise around this area at night. You might get into trouble for that. We can’t take any responsibility for you.”
Okie dokie. I learned a special license is required for the disabled vehicles. From then on, I have great respect for the sign in which a man sits in a wheelchair. I might exaggerate this. The sign halts my moving action in some way. Like the other day I saw the sign on a coffee table at Starbucks, I immediately turned away as if I was a mouse that saw a cat coming along. “Let’s sit over there. This table is for the disabled,” I said and removed my companion’s suit coat which was hung on the chair to reserve the table. I’d rather walk all the way to the back of the bus with five or six bags of groceries than take the empty seat for the disabled people in the front of the bus behind the driver.
Every day I am aware of the sign for the disabled people. I am not surprised that I have grown accustomed to this sense of priority for the disabled in America. I will feel strange and more aggrieved at the “equal treatment” toward the disabled back home in China.