Parking Pains

Various programs around the country are trying to put the brakes on accessible-parking problems.

Finding a good parking space can be a hassle for anyone, but the task takes on a bigger level of frustration when you’re a driver with a disability searching for an accessible one.

If you’re lucky enough to find a parking lot with the right number of reserved spaces, they may not be wide enough. If the space is wide enough, it may not have an access aisle. If the aisle is wide enough for you to put your ramp down, a car may be parked there! Makes you think twice about running that errand, doesn’t it?

Well, change is on the horizon. Many states and municipalities are trying a variety of different programs to improve the situation.

All Those Rules

State law generally governs parking privileges for people with disabilities. However, federal regulations offer a uniform system of parking privileges that includes model definitions and rules regarding eligibility, application procedures, the issuance of license plates and placards, parking and parking space design, and interstate reciprocity. The federal government encourages states to adopt this uniform system, but it’s entirely voluntary.

Most states have incorporated at least some aspects of the uniform regulations into their disability parking laws, including reciprocity. The state laws are fairly similar regarding application procedures and criteria for which the uniform system provides model rules.

For example, in accordance with model rules, most states issue special license plates or placards only after receipt of an application containing certification by a physician.

The federal government encourages states to adopt the uniform system, but it's entirely voluntary.

Other aspects of the state systems vary greatly. Regarding eligibility, while some states have incorporated word-for-word into their eligibility criteria the uniform system’s model definition of an individual with a disability, which limits or impairs the ability to walk, other states have modified or expanded it.

Tennessee added a category for blindness to the model definition. Likewise, states’ laws are different regarding administrative aspects of parking privileges the uniform system does not address. For instance, state rules about how long a hanging placard is valid can vary from two years to indefinitely.

Respect the Space

Against this backdrop of rules and regulations, disabled drivers confront a set of parking issues that defy solution.

Thus, on any given day drivers with disabilities will find the way to their vehicle blocked by delivery trucks parked across curb cuts and cars parked right in the access aisle.  Both problems are serious, but cars parked in the access aisle is particularly galling since it’s an offense frequently committed by people who should know better: drivers with disability parking credentials.

It’s also maddening to always find cars parked in the “van accessible” spaces even though they don’t need the extra-wide access aisle that accompanies those spaces.

These are examples of problems for which there are no easy legislative or legal solutions. People frequently behave poorly, and advocates can’t be everywhere at once to point out these nuisance violations.

A unique program recently implemented by Montgomery County, Md., called “Respect the Space,” could help. It’s a public education campaign to remind people that parking spots are reserved for people with mobility impairments as matters of courtesy and safety. The campaign includes signs, letters and public service announcements.

Chronic Abusers

How often does this happen to you?  You pull into a parking lot only to find that every reserved disability parking spot is taken.

At least it appears that every one of those vehicles has legitimate hanging placards or plates. But out of the corner of your eye you notice a guy jumping out of one of the cars and jogging to the store. Your better nature knows not everyone who has the right to park in the reserved spots uses a wheelchair, but this guy makes you mad.

So, how do you get to the bottom of what appears to be unscrupulous misuse of disability parking credentials? It’s unwise to directly confront the individual in question, but a couple of states have some ideas to help.

States such as Florida and Virginia are toughening their laws governing who gets disability placards and plates and for how long, and raising fines for abuses of the privilege. 

Maryland, for example, now requires the person to whom the placard is issued to carry an identification card. That card must be produced when requested by a law enforcement official who is alerted to or suspects possible misuse of the placard.

Pay As You Go

You’re pushing back to your car parked curbside and you notice something stuffed underneath the wiper blade. It’s a ticket for failing to feed the meter.

However, as far as you knew parking has always been free for vehicles with handicap-parking plates or placards as a way to deal with inaccessible meters and spotty curb cuts. But now your town is bragging about all those brand-new curb cuts, and you notice the parking meters are also new. 

They are mounted conveniently at wheelchair height; can be fed by coin, bill, credit card or cell phone; and have no obstructions around them. Welcome to the approaching end of free parking at metered spots for cars with disability parking credentials. 

Arlington County, Va., and the District of Columbia are eliminating free unlimited parking for cars with the correct credentials in lieu of accessible meters and easier ways to pay.

Many people with disabilities have observed this growing trend and concluded that with equal access to meters comes an equal obligation to pay. Others lament the demise of free parking and worry about the difficulty of having to return to feed the meter for a new period of time. As a concession, the new rules typically permit parking for double the amount of time posted on the meter. 


Contact: PVA Advocacy, 800-424-8200.


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