Getting around can be a hassle for some people with a disability. Those who find it hard to walk or are unable to walk may use mobility devices such as wheelchairs. Many people with a disability rely on parking their cars in disability parking spots. These signed spots are usually closer to businesses, meaning less distance for a person with a disability to physically travel. Often the spots are wide or have no parking strips along their sides, which leaves more space for people who use wheelchairs to get in and out of their cars.
Need a valid permit
Only people with valid permits are allowed to use disability parking spots. Permits are available from local councils. A doctor needs to assess the disability of the person applying for a permit. Permits are issued for a variety of disabilities and medical conditions, including mental health conditions. A driver can also get a permit if they have a family member with a disability. Temporary permits are available. Details about permits can be found on VicRoads and local council websites.
Fines for illegal parking
If a valid permit is not displayed on a vehicle parked in a disability parking space, parking officers will often fine the driver. The fine throughout Victoria is $148. Many drivers are fined everyday. City of Melbourne parking officers issued 2428 fines for parking in a disability space without a valid permit last year. In the Hobsons Bay City Council area– based in Altona, Melbourne – an increasing number of illegal parkers are being caught. Last financial year 172 fines were issued and eight drivers were officially warned. In the first half of this financial year 142 fines have already been issued, along with six warnings.
Wall of shame
Drivers without a valid permit risk more than a fine. Groups on sites like Twitter and Facebook are posting pictures of illegally parked vehicles. Drivers risk the humiliation of a picture of their illegally parked vehicle appearing in their mum or customer’s Facebook feed.
Samantha Connor started one of the groups in March 2013. Samantha uses a wheelchair and two of her six children have disabilities. She is very active in the disability community, including being a board member for the advocacy group People with Disability Australia.
Samantha is frustrated at the attitude of illegal parkers. For her “people parking in disability bays is not actually the issue – it is the issue of people not caring about the rights of people with disability”. She says this casual disregard for the rights of people with disability has to stop. People told her naming and shaming was a great idea as nothing else seemed to work. So she created her wall of shame page. The group has over 7,000 members.
Many of those whose cars appear on the page have contacted the site. Some are not polite. Some are full of regret, like business owners who apologise and say they will ensure their employees never do it again. Samantha says the Queensland police once investigated whether officers who parked a police car in a disability spot outside a bakery were on official business.
Confronting illegal parkers
Members of the group are advised to be discrete when taking photos of vehicles. The page recommends that members stay safe and not confront illegal parkers. Despite this, members of the group have approached the owners of offending vehicles. Sometimes the accused driver responds with abuse. If the vehicle has a business name on it, members of the page have also contacted that business to complain.
There are times when people are wrongly accused of illegal parking. This can particularly happen when the driver does not have an obvious disability or a family member has the disability. Kevina Atkinson told the ‘Gladstone Observer’ she was tired of being abused for suspected illegal parking. She uses disability parking because her daughter has Kleefstra Syndrome.
Ring the council
Confrontations and wrongful accusations can be avoided by reporting illegal parking directly to the local council. A customer service officer for the Hobson Bay City Council recommends that people call them with disability parking complaints. A parking inspector will then be sent to investigate as soon as possible. And there is no need to risk being caught by an angry driver taking a photo, as the council can’t take action based on photos.