Members of the local disabled community absolutely hate parking in designated handicapped parking spaces.

Well, maybe not every member, but I'm willing to bet many of them would agree with the trade-off proposed by one Lafayette father who went viral for his plea to those who illegally park in spaces that are reserved for disabled members of our community—especially his children.

Stephen Melara says he would be willing to park a half mile away from every establishment in "rain, sleet, snow and the dead of the south Louisiana heat" if it meant his kids would be walking alongside him.

Facebook, Stephen Melara
Facebook, Stephen Melara

Melara's kids are wheelchair-bound, and recently his family ran into a bit of a hurdle during a quick trip to the grocery store. As the Melara family walked out to their van, they noticed a vehicle had been parked in the space next to them.

The space, marked with diagonal blue lines, can be found located next to every designated handicapped parking spot, allowing space to unload wheelchairs and giving caregivers and disabled individuals any necessary space that may be needed to access the business or establishment nearby.

In this case, the Melara family was stuck with no access to their sliding van door until the SUV moved out of the area.

His post angered many on social media who claimed to see this type of behavior far too often in Lafayette and surrounding areas.

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Melara says he kept his cool when the driver of the vehicle came out to move the SUV but hopes that his experience will bring awareness to the community and prevent this from happening as often in the future.

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As crazy as it may sound, some people actually get confrontational when it is brought to their attention that they are parking in a space designated for disabled individuals with the proper tags. That's what Kindra Roy shared on Facebook, describing a heated confrontation involving her personal trainer outside of a local Walgreens store.

In a series of now-deleted comments, a business page on Facebook that was seemingly connected to the truck that can be seen in the photo replied publicly to Roy's post, stating that the parking lot was empty and his illegal parking job wasn't that big of a deal given his claim that he was only in the store for "less than one minute."

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Other commenters replied, informing the alleged parking violator that the issue "is not as simple as the parking lot is empty," reminding him why that specific space is designated for disabled individuals with the proper credentials.

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Liam Doyle is a nationally certified ADA Coordinator who formerly held that position along with the position of Disability Affairs Coordinator for Lafayette Consolidated Government from 2017-2019. Doyle tells me that roughly 1 out of every 10 citizens in Lafayette is disabled; a number that is on par with cities of our size across the country.

He tells me that while many people associate being disabled with being wheelchair-bound or having visible struggles, the truth is the term "disabled" is a lot more wide-ranging than people may realize.

there are a wide range of persons with disabilities who need access to these spaces. Some have very visible disabilities, and some are less evident to the naked eye.

Doyle says that in no way does the latter "make their right and need to access these spaces any less valid." Currently serving as an ADA Coordinator in Tampa, FL, Liam says his position on this situation is "always one of hope."

When I was at LCG I always wanted to meet people where they were and try and show them how much people with disabilities have to go through in Lafayette. For the most part, people where very receptive and engaging. I think it’s easy to look at someone who parks in a spot like that as being ignorant and dismissive.

Even though there are certainly cases where selfish or negative behavior is at play, Doyle—who is wheelchair-bound—says that it is very likely that there is simply "a lack of awareness."

If someone doesn’t know what it’s like to be a part of a community other than the one they know, and deal with these same issues day in and day out, then it stands to reason that when they are suddenly thrust into the middle of a situation like this, they don’t know how to respond.

Liam is right, and if you want to brush up on your awareness when it comes to these situations, Lafayette Consolidated Government and the Lafayette Mayor-President's Awareness Committee for Citizens with Disabilities have some great information on the LCG website encouraging citizens to "think before they park"

Proximity to a building’s entrance, space for loading and unloading wheelchair equipment and weather all play a significant factor in the ability for citizens in wheelchairs to move in and out of a vehicle. For wheelchair-bound citizens and their caregivers, not being able to park in designated handicapped spaces can hinder or even make it impossible to get their destinations.

To quote the LCG site, "observing handicapped parking signs is not just the law, but it is also the right thing to do."

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