West Milford Woman Crusades for the Disabled
December 3, 2003
Bergen County Record
There's a story behind the big orange cone Janice Sangle keeps in her van. Three years ago, Sangle was holiday shopping at Costco in Wayne. Upon exiting the store, the disabled woman realized she couldn't get inside her vehicle. Another car had parked on the diagonally striped area next to her handicapped parking spot. That left no room for Sangle, who uses a ramp to roll her wheelchair in and out of her vehicle.
"It was freezing cold, and I was stuck outside my van," Sangle, 52, of West Milford, recalled.
Sangle waited a good while for the owner of the illegally parked car to return. Eventually, she called the police. After the officer arrived, a man and his wife came running out of the store. The officer wrote a ticket and told the man he owed Sangle an apology.
"The man was just very indignant," Sangle recalled. "He took the ticket from the officer and then he just sped off. The officer turned around to me and said, 'Excuse me, he's going to get another ticket.'-"
The experience led Sangle to keep an orange cone in her van, to claim her territory.
Sangle was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 10 years ago. She has a home health aide and her husband, Stephen, to rely on, but Sangle also enjoys her independence. She gets around just fine in her battery-powered wheelchair, and often drives her handicapped- accessible van alone.
"There's all this technology available to us, all these advances to help us become mobile," Sangle said. "We just need it on the other side."
Sangle has made accessibility for the handicapped her personal crusade. According to census figures, 18 percent of New Jersey residents over 5 years of age are disabled. That's about 1.5 million. Sangle began her public advocacy in West Milford, to make her hometown more wheelchair-friendly. She has since taken her fight to the state level, and her devotion to the cause has drawn high- level recognition. This year, Sangle was inducted into the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Hall of Fame.
"Janice realized that the things she's fighting for in her own community are things that
could benefit people in all communities," said Autumn Strier, the statewide public-policy manager for the MS Society's three New Jersey chapters. "That's why she's fighting on the state level."
In West Milford, Sangle has no shortage of supporters.
"I can only speak of her in superlatives," said former Mayor Maria Harkey, who recently suffered a stroke. Sangle "was really an inspiration to me. She raised my level of consciousness about people who had a disability, and then ironically I [later developed] one."
Sangle said that there is a lack of education about disabled people. Right now, she's concentrating on accessibility, pushing for state measures to better inform people and to enforce laws. She's the driving force behind an Assembly bill that would improve education about handicapped parking. The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio, R-Montville, also would require the state Motor Vehicle Commission to issue color-coded expiration stickers in a bid to crack down on drivers who use someone else's handicapped identification to park in designated spaces.
Many handicapped people own a placard that entitles the vehicle they are in to park in a designated space even if they are only passengers. The placard does not have a photo or an expiration date.
"You don't know if that placard or license plate is valid," Sangle said. "This can be from someone who died years ago and was passed down in the family."
With color-coded expiration stickers, Sangle said, police will have no doubt whether the vehicle belongs there. And this year, the fine for illegally parking in a handicapped space increased to $250.
Sangle said it's hard to find available handicapped parking, but finding van-accessible parking can be impossible.
Federal law requires that for every eight handicap spaces, one has to be van-accessible, allowing an extra 8 feet of room. But many businesses offer only regular handicapped spaces, which have an extra 5 feet and are insufficient for someone in a wheelchair exiting a van.
Sangle doesn't blame the businesses, who get their site plans approved by planning boards. "There's just so many different laws and so many codes, it's almost impossible for any one person to know them all," she said.
Many businesses will provide the special parking if someone brings it to their attention, Sangle said. Today, thanks to her, West Milford's two grocery stores - ShopRite and A and P - and the Wal- Mart in Franklin, Sussex County, are among stores that offer van- accessible parking.
Sangle feels a sense of triumph when a special space is made at her request, especially the one at Wal-Mart, her favorite store. She took photos of her van in the new parking spot.
"Now I can see all those rollback prices," Sangle said, referring to the store's marketing strategy. "Life is grand in the land of Jan!"
Some of Janice Sangle's other achievements:
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