The Disabled Parking Perk

Accessible Parking Permits (APP) are perhaps the only “perk” persons with disabilities get. But it’s not the perk most people assume it is. For many, being out in the world only occurs on “good days” and even on a “good day”, a walk across a parking lot is equal to one lap around a big-box store, which may be all the stamina they have. A lot of mobility and chronic pain is about stamina and energy conservation, so if energy can be saved by not having to walk across the lot, that energy can be expended elsewhere and more efficiently. There are also practical considerations such as the accommodation of vehicles that may require more space, or the need for a curb-ramp to accommodate an assistive device such as a wheelchair.

I recently had a conversation with someone who argued that there were too many disabled parking spaces and based this logic on the argument that whenever they saw them, there were always empty disabled spaces. In fact, empty spaces can indicate the opposite, that there are an adequate number of spaces as there should always be at least one available for use. Always-full spaces illustrate that the current number of spaces is not meeting the demand for those dedicated spaces and more are needed. Indeed, many people I know who have an APP only use them when doing so is necessary, leaving the spaces for those who might need them more. As well, with one in seven Canadians having a disability, and the majority of those disabilities being related to mobility and / or pain, there really can never be too many spaces.

So what is the required ratio of disabled spaces to other parking spaces? A general rule to follow would be 5% of spaces* be designated as disabled spaces. Obviously, when determining the number of allocated spaces, the nature of the building should be taken into consideration. Senior’s centres, healthcare facilities would benefit from having a higher number of disabled parking spaces. For many, getting out is limited to necessities such as groceries, banking, and occasional shopping and so having additional available spaces would benefit persons with disabilities.

I also have to point out the need for signs to indicate these dedicated spaces. Paint symbols on the ground do work very well, however, we live in Canada and that means the paint is covered with snow for a large portion of the year. As a result, many people inadvertently park in these spaces illegally. Signage in addition to paint indicators, either on a post or hanging on the wall, ensure that dedicated spaces are properly indicated at all times.

And while we’re on the topic of snow, these spaces should not be used to pile snow from plowing. I encountered this twice last winter, once at a nearby hospital where the snowplow had not piled the snow in the actual space, but between the disabled spaces and the hospital entrance. This required going through the parking lot and back through the lot entrance, squeezing between the curb and the entrance-gate arm. The second time was at a local coffee-chain and the snow had actually been piled in the space after plowing the rest of the parking lot.

The location of these spaces is also of importance, obviously nearest the entrance to the facility is preferred. In my town, this means that for at least two of the downtown banks, the spaces are located behind the building, halfway down a very steep slope due to the riverbank.

Also – to those who truly believe that it is okay to “just stop for a minute” in disabled spaces as long as you remain in the vehicle, please stop. You may mistakenly believe that you will simply move your vehicle if someone needs the space, this doesn’t really work in the real world. You see, I have come along and needed the space, and I see you sitting behind the wheel, but I can’t see your windshield and so I assume you are permitted use of the space. So I park elsewhere. And even if I am aware there is no APP displayed, if you’re already arrogant and entitled enough to park in a disabled space you are not entitled to, I’m not about to confront you.

I have also, on at least two separate occasions, at two separate large retail chain stores, witnessed staff improperly using these spaces, once for a someone to drop off lunch to a staff member, and once by someone waiting to pick a staff member up. Please – if you don’t need the space, first, be thankful – I’d really rather be able to walk across the parking lot, and second, leave them for those of us who do.

~ For more information on accessibility compliance and accommodation ~

*not intended as legal advice, building codes and accessibility regulations vary by region