SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - According to a recent survey, 74 percent of people acknowledge seeing an able-bodied person park improperly in a spot designated for someone with disabilities.
A fact that doesn’t surprise Mitch Iddins in the least.
“On a daily basis it happens all over town all day long, just about everywhere I go,” he said.
Iddins became a paraplegic at the age of 18 following a swimming accident.
“It happened so simple, it was around midnight and I was out with some friends, and I just kind of leaned in the pool and hit my head on the bottom,” said Iddins.
“Broke my neck, didn’t even know I broke my neck. Didn’t feel any pain all I knew was I couldn’t move, and I was face down in the water.”
But today, he is the Director of Independent Living at New Horizons Independent Living Center in Shreveport, and an advocate for people with disabilities.
On a recent sunny fall afternoon, Iddins rode his electric wheelchair into his modified grey Toyota van and drove me around Shreveport and Bossier to show firsthand how easy it is to find people parking illegal in handicap accessible spaces.
“There’s not really a lot of accessible parking, compared to the number of people that are out there shopping and going to various places,” said Iddins. “And now that it’s close to the holidays, people are notorious for violating it during the holidays.”
Sure enough, cruising through a crowded shopping center parking lot in Bossier City, Iddins quickly identified five different vehicles that appeared to be parked illegally in spots designated for people with special needs or disabilities.
“People that don’t have an appropriate placard, either hanging from the visor, or an appropriate license plate,” Iddins said.
Iddins thinks a lot of able-bodied people park in these reserved spaces because they are simply unaware why people with disabilities need the accommodation.
‘A lot of people think it is ‘Oh they just want to want to be up close, so they can get in and get out quick,” said Iddins. “It’s not that at all. It’s a public safety issue.”
If you are at a shopping center and someone has illegally used up all the accessible space, and you are in a van like me and use a wheelchair, you end up having to park in the back, far away,” Iddins said.
“When you’re coming through the back of a parking lot, people don’t often see somebody in a wheel chair. You know we sit a lot lower,” said Iddins. “And I’ve almost gotten hit. And I’ve got friends who’ve gotten hit and run over in that same situation.”
According to Iddins, illegal parking in accessible spaces happens a lot in downtown Bossier City and Shreveport as well. In fact, on another trip through downtown Shreveport, in less than thirty minutes we identified five more vehicles that appeared to be parked illegal in reserved spots.
Parking authorities from both cities do aggressively enforce the illegal parking, and in fact according to public records, over the past twelve months Shreveport issued 353 citations and Bossier City wrote 165.
But as Mitch points out, parking enforcement authorities can’t be everywhere.
“Those are just the people that got caught, those are just the people that got issued a citation,” Iddins said. “Goes to show that we’ve got a problem. And I’ve known for years that we’ve had a problem with this issue.”
A further examination of public records show in Shreveport, accessible spaces on Travis Street and Texas Street, as well as Shreveport Regional Airport are the most frequently abused spaces.
Over in Bossier City, the biggest area of concern when it comes to illegal handicap parking is the Louisiana Boardwalk and a couple of apartment complexes.
While Mitch isn’t angry with people who use the spaces improperly, he does want to educate the public and let them know, that every time an able-bodied person tried speeding up their day by using an accessible parking space, they put the safety of a person with disabilities at risk.
“I just want people with disabilities to be able to get out and have a quality of life, to enjoy their communities and enjoy life. That’s why I’m such a passionate advocate for people man,” said Iddins.