Finding parking in the city is never easy, but for people with disabilities, it’s even more difficult. Many shops and restaurants have just a couple of disabled spaces next to ramps or curb-free, wheelchair-friendly access compared to dozens of non-disabled spaces. To make things even worse, able-bodied people who are just plain lazy will break the law and used disabled spaces to avoid walking.
While many people might justify their law-breaking and disrespect for the disabled by telling themselves that “the spot was empty” or “I was only going to be there for a minute,” there’s simply no excuse for this kind of behavior.
That’s a message that behavioral scientist Daniel Pink wanted to get out with his National Geographic show Crowd Control. The show illustrates how the power of persuasion can improve quality of life and teach people important lessons about living better together.
In an episode from a few years ago called “Payback Time,” Pink wanted able-bodied people to feel how inconvenient it is to be blocked in a parking spot—the way disabled people feel when they have to wait for the driver of an illegally parked car to move.
The setup is pretty simple: Pink has four wheelchair-user volunteers and a special van with a ramp that can be lowered at variable speed. As he tells his team: “We’re going to ride our van around looking for cars parked illegally in disabled spaces. When we see one, we’re going to block that car in. When the owner comes out, we’re going to get out of our van very, very slowly.”
As the guys cruise around, it isn’t too long before they come across a violator in a parking lot. The car in question is a beige SUV. It’s parked in a clearly designated disabled parking space. The car has neither disabled plates nor tags hanging from the rear-view mirror. It’s a cut-and-dry example of an able-bodied person selfishly and thoughtlessly breaking the law.
As Pink says, this is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a bumper for a bumper.” He has the van get into position such that there’s no way the driver of the SUV can get out. “Looks like the owner of this car will have to wait until all our passengers are out. And it’s going to take a while, on purpose,” Pink tells the viewers.
The van door opens and the participants get their chairs into position. “I want to see how they feel when they get a taste of their own medicine,” Pink says. His assistant makes sure to lower them as slowly as possible, and the owner finally steps out and clocks the van behind her. She’s clearly not physically disabled and obviously embarrassed about having blocked out the people who really needed her spot.
After one after another of the chairs come out, the woman apologizes: “I’m so sorry.” But this is too little, too late, and Pink and his team keep the guys coming. “I mean I can move my car now,” she offers, probably hoping that this will let her escape the embarrassing situation. But the guys keep coming, and she has to face the consequences of her actions.
Here’s hoping that there’s one less person who will be breaking the parking laws, and that viewers at home got the message too. If you’re not disabled, don’t park there! It’s as simple as that.