Thursday, July 01, 2010

Justice Disabled

Let’s suppose that I walked up to you one morning and thrust a photograph under your nose.

“What do you see in the window?” I ask.

You carefully scrutinise the picture. There isn’t really that much to see. It’s a picture taken through the front windscreen of a car. You can just see the edges of the bonnet, so you know it’s a red car. It’s not quite in focus. You can see the reflection of the man taking the picture. There is something on the dashboard.

“The disabled badge?” you offer cautiously.

“Yes, a disabled badge.” If you were a sea lion in a sea life park, no doubt you would be clapping your flippers and waiting for the fish. “Now, ask me – where was the car parked at the time.”

You comply. You feel safer with a script.

“Little Church Street, just across the road from the back entrance of Marks and Spencer’s, in a disabled parking space.”

That makes sense – a disabled parking place and a disabled parking badge. You are not sure where the narrative is headed but things are slotting into place.

“Now ask me – did I have a disabled passenger in the car?”

Of course, you have no way of knowing whether I am one of those people that have a badge and use it dishonestly. The rest of the driving population circle round car parks like vultures waiting for empty space to land, but others have the privilege of the marked out spaces for the disabled. You are beginning to get curious so you ask the question.

“My mother, almost blind, mostly deaf and quite old, she is definitely disabled.” I supply the answer. I don’t bother to tell you which shops we visited or list our purchases.

There would be something else in the photo if the parking attendant had taken his photo after rather then before he slipped the parking fine under the windscreen wiper! Despite having a disabled passenger, and displaying a disabled badge in the windscreen because I was parking in a disabled parking space, I still got fined.

The badge was not displayed the right way around!

Of course, I marched up to the Town Hall. Most times I amble to places, but this was not a time for ambling. I didn’t have to wait very long before I could thrust the parking fine under the nose of the lady behind the counter. She was on my side – or perhaps it was just the great training she had been given in dealing with potential tornados that made me think she was on my side.

I filled in an appeal's sheet, swithering over the wording. Even I conceded that I had obviously not “correctly” displayed the disabled badge.

She read through my account and assured me that if they took it any further they would be in touch in the next six weeks. She gave the impression that she thought they had made a mistake and it would not be pursued.

So that brings us to today and my imaginary conversation dragging you onto my side of the line. The fine stood, despite the badge in the window, the wrong way up. If there had been no badge, I could have understood it – but there was a badge. They – the district council of Rugby - had the chance to see the bigger picture and act in the spirit of the law, but they chose to be small-minded, money-pinching, nit-picking letter-of-the-law bureaucrats. Most reluctantly I paid the fine, although a friend said I should have made a stand! The words “correctly displayed” undermine my confidence.

It occurs to me as I retell the sorry tale, that I am swift to defend what I consider to be an injustice against me. I am challenged to consider whether I am as swift to defend others. My paltry parking fine is really only a small thing compared with real injustice.

Just as a PS I would like to apologise to the man in the car park. I was told that the attendant had just gone back to the main car-park so I set off in pursuit. He was standing there, a file under his arm and a name tag dangling from his shirt pocket.

I harangued him for fifteen minutes. I am not sure what I said, but he nodded sagely as I spoke. He agreed that it was unfair, that there was a disabled badge in the window, that I was entitled to park there, that I hadn’t exceeded the three hour limit and that the whole experience had been unpleasant for my disabled mother.

“What are you going to do about it?” was my final challenge.

“Me?” He looked alarmed. It turned out that not only was he not the car park attendant but he didn’t work for the council at all. It was lunchtime and he was just on his way to eat his sandwiches in the park and had taken short cut through the car park!

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