I am now truly grateful for that permit as it enables me to save precious energy and limit my pain. The city of Austin also offers extra benefits to those with disabled permits including free parking and no time limits at any city parking meters. However, those benefits are often negated by the fact that parking is not available. The city does have disabled parking spots scattered around downtown, but they’re rarely where I need them to be. In one location, there are five disabled spots all clustered together on one block with no important buildings on it—in other words, inconveniently located. I’ve also had times where the nearest parking I can find is four or six blocks away from where I want to go, and since walking even a block can be difficult for me, that’s not close enough. I end up having to go home without attending the event I wanted to go to.
The same is true at many big public events such as those held at Zilker Park or various farmers’ markets. It’s clear that those planning the events assume that all who are disabled are in motorized wheelchairs or have people to push them in their wheelchairs. They don’t realize that many of those who are disabled are mobility impaired without a wheelchair. Even though they provide the closest parking for the disabled, it’s still not close enough at some events. It means those events are inaccessible for me.
Murphy’s law dictates that there is sometimes a surplus of disabled parking spots when there are no other parking spots to be found such as at a shopping center. However, there never seem to be enough at Whole Foods when I am at the downtown store, the Gateway store, or at the Domain.
I’ve also run into major problems with not enough disabled parking at one of my doctors’ offices. When I have appointments there that are after 8 a.m., I often cannot find flat surface parking, and the building is situated on one of the few hills in Austin. That means that if I can’t find a flat surface spot, disabled or not, I can’t park my car and I can’t get in to my appointments. I’ve asked the building management to add additional spots, but I was ignored. As a result, I contacted the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to discover that any medical building built since 2012 or which has performed any sort of renovation on the facility since 2012 is required to designate 20% of their parking as disabled. Individuals can file a complaint with TDLR to start an investigation into violations. Unfortunately, however, the grandfathering clause on this code means that many medical buildings are exempt from this requirement.
So why is this lack of disabled parking a growing problem? I’ve rarely seen abuse of disabled parking spots in terms of those without permits using them. I’ve also never seen offenders ticketed for parking illegally despite the hefty fines they would face if caught, so I’m sure that does motivate some people to abuse the system.
I think the larger problem is with the aging baby boomer population which is increasing the number of individuals who genuinely need disabled parking, yet the laws are not being changed to increase the number of spots available. I also think there are doctors who will liberally dispense placards without justification merely because patients ask. Furthermore, in Texas, each disabled individual can get two placards at a time when no person really needs more than one: I used to easily move my only one between our two cars when my ex-husband and I still lived together. By distributing an extra placard to each disabled person, the system is setting up an easy way to commit fraud. Disabled parking permits definitely have a black market value: One friend had her car broken into and the only thing stolen was her placard. Even if individuals don’t sell their extra placard, they could illegally gift it to a friend. While one is required to provide ID showing that the permit is his/hers/hirs if questioned by an officer, I’ve never seen this happen, either.
Disabled parking is vital to those of us with chronic and extreme health issues. I’m grateful it exists. However, it’s a far from perfect system that needs a great deal of updating and revision to keep up with the changing demands of our current world.
© 2015 Green Heart Guidance