An alarming number of people believe the term ‘disability’ only refers to someone who uses a wheelchair – but in actual fact, 9 out of 10 disabilities are invisible.
Brain injuries, congestive heart failure, lung disease, MS, neurological disorders, lupus, and arthritis are just a few disabilities which can be invisible to an outsider.
The challenge for people living with an invisible disability? Others can assume they’re ‘rorting’ the system, especially when it comes to accessible parking.
While it’s illegal to park in an accessible parking space without a permit (and you’ll be up for a hefty fine if you do) some people have taken it upon themselves to become parking vigilantes, trying to catch people out.
Although these vigilantes think they’re doing the right thing, they often misread the situation – shaming people of cheating the system, when in fact the person parking is perfectly entitled to use an accessible parking space.
Shockingly, it’s common for people with a disability to be verbally abused, left nasty notes, thrown filthy looks, or have their cars keyed.
Recently, Justine Van Den Borne from Melbourne who has Multiple Sclerosis, appeared in the headlines when – after parking in an accessible parking spot – she found a note on her car reading ‘Did you forget your wheelchair?’ This was despite the fact that Justine had clearly displayed her Australian Disability Parking Permit.
What this ‘do-gooder’ didn’t know was that it was a rare day when Justine could walk without assistance and had decided to spend the day out with her daughter.
In the US, a Mother and her daughter, Kaitlyn, were also shocked to find a note on their car reading, “Greetings. I observed you parking in this handicap parking place today. It appears that you are not really handicap – perhaps just in a hurry or worse, just plain lazy.”
Kaitlyn, however, has a rare genetic disorder called hypophosphatasia that leaves her bones weak and brittle. She was born with 13 bone fractures and has had dozens more since then.
It’s important to remember that if someone has an appropriate permit, it is not up for us to cast judgement. However, if you think someone is abusing the system, read on to find out what you can do.
Before you roll your eyes at someone pulling into an accessible parking spot, remember it’s impossible to know at a glance whether or not they require a disability parking permit.
A person who has a prosthetic limb or mobility issues may find it hard to walk long distances, others may have chronic pain or breathing difficulties which means walking can be harder.
Keep in mind that parents and carers of people with a disability can also use an accessible parking spot if they are transporting, dropping off, or picking up a person who has a permit themselves.
In NSW, parking in a disability space without a permit will result in a hefty $519 fine and offenders will also lose a demerit point.
If you do see an illegally parked car parked in a public space and feel the need to do something, you can report it to your local council. Local council areas can be identified on the Office of Local Government website. In privately operated car parks or shopping centres, you can also report the issue to the manager.
And remember being abusive and taking vigilante action (like damaging someone’s car) is as illegal as parking in a disabled car space without a permit.
The Australian Disability Parking Scheme (ADPS) was designed to help people with genuine mobility disabilities. And you can rest assured these permits aren’t given out lightly.
Before anyone can get a disability parking permit, they need to meet the criteria which includes providing a doctor’s certificate.
In NSW for example, guidelines state that if you use a wheelchair or other mobility aid, your physical condition is detrimentally affected by walking 100m, or if you’re permanently visually impaired, you can be granted a permit.
Once someone has a Australian Disability Parking Permit, they can park in parking spaces showing the international symbol of access and can receive concessions in most public parking spaces where the sign or meter shows specific time limits.