CALGARY -- Erik Freiburger has been the target of angry able-bodied people before, but is noticing even less tolerance during the pandemic.

"One time a lady had written all in lipstick across the driver's window to key marks on the side of van to notes saying people like us should have our tires slashed," said Freiburger.

Freiburger and his wife Bonnie are incomplete quadriplegics due to separate spinal cord injuries following motor vehicle accidents. Both use a wheelchair and the couple drive a full-size accessible van they use for outings and getting groceries. That van has a side loading ramp, so Erik typically parks at an angle in handicapped marked stalls that can take two spots.

"The first thing we always look for when we're out (are parking) places where there's a big enough island and that it has access to get to our destinations," said Freiburger. "Where we can drop the lift directly onto the sidewalk and there's no worry of someone parking beside us and blocking our access."

Freiburger is no stranger to having someone park too close to the passenger side of his van. One winter evening they had to wait for almost an hour after returning to find the side door blocked by another vehicle.

"Somebody had literally driven up onto the island of this walkway and parked and we couldn't get in and out of our van," said Freiburger.

Freiburger said in the last few months he's seeing more people lash out at him for taking up more than one spot to the point where he stays inside the van while his wife goes for groceries.

"It's upsetting that we are concerned about going out in public now and being able to park safely and leave our vehicle with the threat or concern that someone either becoming aggressive towards us or vandalizing our vehicle," said Freiburger.


Shaun Dyer, the CEO of Spinal Cord Injury Alberta and says people with disabilities face more barriers to thriving in the community than those who are able-bodied. Accessible vehicles play a big part in their independence and sometimes they require more than their single allotted space.

"When you see a vehicle with a handicapped sticker," said Dyer. "Or very clearly people need extra time and space to get in and out of their vehicles, just take a deep breath and acknowledge the fact that they have extra challenges."

Freiburger hopes that message rings true the next time he and his wife have to venture out.

"(We) really hope to get the awareness out there that accessible vehicles need greater space in parking as well as an understanding of why they may be parked on an angle or event taking up a couple stalls," said Freiburger. "It's because we need the security of knowing we have access to our vehicle and that there's space for it."