Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Handicapped Parking Awareness

Oh no... not this again...

So what would a Handicapped Awareness Blog be without at least one posting on our favorite topic, the use (and mis-use) of Handicapped Parking placards and license plates? When asked, local area handicapped citizens flagged problems with finding adequate reserved parking as a major concern. So let's take a look at that, shall we?

First, I don't believe the violators of the parking laws are being intentionally malicious. When caught and questioned, most violators will admit that they did it "without thinking" or did it thinking that "no one would be hurt" by it. Some were just planning to "dash in and out." Some are ignorant of the law (or plead that case) and misuse the placards thinking that they have a "right to because a family member does." The excuses are many, and varied.

Ignorance is something we can fix, however, through increased communication and education. Other problems may not be quite so easy. Two especially vexing problems are the setting of a bad example by "authority figures" and the lax monitoring of existing laws by those tasked with enforcing them.

Authority Figures: It doesn't help when our very own Mayor, Carty Finkbeiner, was caught back in 2007 illegally parking his city-owned vehicle in a handicapped-only parking zone. He eventually apologized, and paid the fine, but then one day later the story was buried by the even bigger scandal of Carty having left his dog locked inside to "bake in the heat of a sunny August afternoon" while he made his massage therapy appointment. The parking scandal was all but forgotten inside of 24 hours. The "dog story" went on for a week.

Now I love dogs (don't tell my cats) and I have checks to the local Humane Society to prove it, but there's something wrong, in this Blogger's opinion, when a dog story can trump the issue of violating the handicapped parking law.

Maybe we need a cute dog as a mascot?

My point is, how can we expect the average citizen to take handicapped parking permit laws seriously when our own government officials ignore them as well? Admittedly, most city workers are honest and would never break the law, but it only takes one high profile individual to make a lasting bad impression. I believe that such people need to set, for themselves, a higher standard. It's like watching a police car run a red light. Why should I follow a rule if the people who enforce those rules will not?

So how bad is it, really? Several Toledo area citizens have studied the problem of handicapped parking abuse on college campuses. In several cases, investigation revealed that some students were illegally using the parking permits of deceased relatives just to get a slightly better parking space at school. Clearly the problem here is a little more serious, and the violations intentional. Which brings us to...

Law Enforcement: I'm willing to cut the police a little slack here. Most law enforcement departments (Toledo's included) are underfunded, understaffed and overworked. In such an environment parking violations are bound to take a back seat to more serious crimes like moving violations, theft and murder. Still, in the modern age of computers and networked information databases, I do think that more can be done.

One solution might be to require yearly checks to see if owners of handicapped parking permits are still living, or still in need of them. If not, those permits should be flagged, and anyone caught using them should risk some penalty a bit more severe than a $100 fine.

Another solution might be to tighten up the application process. While it might make it a bit more difficult for those with a legitimate need to secure a permit, it will also make it harder for those with little or no real need to acquire a permit when other options may be available.

But whatever else we do, we need to continue the dialogue, even when we think nobody is listening. Education really is the key to making more people aware... especially the able-bodied... that we need those spaces a lot more than they do. We fought for them. We got them. Now we have to defend them.

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