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The Abuse of Disability Parking Needs to Stop

February 28, 2021 is the 14th international Rare Disease Day, coordinated by EURORDIS. On the last day of February, hundreds of patient organizations from countries and regions all over the world will hold awareness-raising activities. I have Pompe, a genetic disease. Pompe disease is a rare (estimated at 1 in every 40,000 births), inherited and usually fatal neuromuscular disorder.

We face many challenges. Some are cultural. For example, one night I parked my car on the street to go to a seminar. When I returned, someone had taken a crowbar and smashed my window and removed my disability parking placard. When I searched the internet for disability parking placards, I found many people selling them for handsome profits. I even saw one person selling a disability parking street sign that was obviously stolen, so the sign could be planted in front of one’s home and have reserved parking on crowded streets.

Not wanting my car windows smashed again, I had my license plates switched to disability plates. Someone stole my plates right off my car. With newer printers, a dishonest person can print a plastic hang tag at will, and easily sell them for $100 each.

In New York, we noticed some placards included the driver’s license or state ID of the permit’s owner. But that is not the norm in the United States. In Indiana, disability permits have no expiration date, so they can be used in perpetuity after Grandma dies.

There are many people who have invisible disabilities and legitimate parking permits. I am not talking about those individuals. I’m talking about counterfeit or illicitly acquired parking placards being used by people whose behavior displaces the legitimately disabled from using reserved spots.

One issue is that the fines are too lenient for fraudulently parking in a disability spot. Having violators’ faces printed in the newspapers would be a stronger deterrent. Fines are ridiculously low. If all placards had the name and/or state ID and/or photo of the permit owner printed on the hang tags, it would substantially reduce fraudulent use. In 1999, 19 UCLA football players were caught with fraudulent parking permits; it was discovered they simply forged a doctor’s signature on the permit applications. Walmart has successfully influenced lawmakers in many states to increase shoplifting from a misdemeanor to a felony. The same could be done for stealing disability placards and fraudulently using spots.

What I see as the main issue is that accessible parking is perceived as a perk by many in our culture, as opposed to a civil right under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 12101). Obviously, the UCLA football players were not struggling to get out of wheelchairs. Those athletes perceived accessible parking as a privilege. Disabled people often are victims of ire and spleen from able-bodied people, who consider disability accommodation an unjust perk. Our culture needs greater awareness and compassion for disabled people, and vigorous legal repercussions for the abuse of disabled parking.

Getty image by EJ Rodriquez.

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