A disability advocate has called out a major problem with disabled parking spots, saying the signs fail to acknowledge “invisible” disabilities.
Life Without Barriers executive leader of disability engagement, Chris Chippendale, told Yahoo News Australia a number of people qualified for disabled parking permits who may not appear to have a disability.
Mr Chippendale said this could cause issues when other drivers called them out for parking in a disabled spot when they appeared abled.
The car in the photo clearly did not park between the lines and the front of the car partially blocked the access ramp to the footpath.
While people were quick to express their dismay, others defended the driver and said they may have had to park this way to ensure a person with a disability had enough room to get out.
The Herald Sun reported a pregnant woman with a disability that affected her mobility was abused for parking in a disabled spot in Melbourne.
She was slammed for parking in a “wheelchair” spot when she did not use a mobility aid.
Mr Chippendale told Yahoo News Australia the wheelchair symbol on disabled parking spots did not represent other disabilities that could qualify for a permit and could cause confusion.
“The issue is the symbol for disability parking is a wheelchair, but that’s obvious and visible,” he said.
“But if you have a daughter with an intellectual disability who is mobile but might be easily distracted and run across the road – well they could be at risk.
“Disability parking spots are bigger and it allows you to go around and open to door to grab them by the hand and while they might seem like a young person, there’s a range of what you might call invisible disabilities.
“You do hear unfortunately people being yelled at and some hostility towards people who do have a valid permit. People with Parkinson’s for example, their symptoms can be controlled by medication.”
Mr Chippendale said people shouldn’t jump to conclusions and remember the ability to park anywhere and walk into the supermarket was something many took for granted.
“After you’ve driven around the car park three or four times – that frustration is nothing compared to getting in and out of the vehicle if you have a child who is deaf for example,” he said.
“One in five people have a disability so the message is to think about that extra three or four minutes it takes you to walk from your car is nothing compared to the challenges people with a disability have to overcome.”
Each person that obtains a disabled parking permit has had to provide a letter from a health professional explaining why the space is needed.
Who is eligible for a disability parking permit?
In NSW you can qualify for a disability parking permit if you are unable to walk due to the permanent or temporary loss or use of one or both legs, or you are unable to walk because of another permanent physical or medical issue.
The NSW Transport Roads & Maritime Services states on its website a person who suffers problems walking 100 metres and those who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, scooters, walking frames and crutches also qualify.
People with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, leg amputations, motor neurone disease, chromosomal or syndromic conditions, blindness, neuromuscular conditions and neurodegenerative disorders can also apply for a permit.
Those without a valid permit in the state who park in disability spots risk being slapped with a $572 fine.
According to VicRoads, a person is eligible for a permit once a medical practitioner confirms they have a permanent condition that impairs their ability to walk and they have trouble accessing a car in a normal parking spot.
Those who have a complex walking aid, a support that touches the ground in more than one place, also qualify for a permit.
Vision-impaired people can also access disability spaces.
Those who break disabled parking laws in Victoria will be fined $165.
Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said Queensland would bring in the changes from mid next year.
A person is currently fined $266 for parking in a disabled spot without a valid permit but that is set the rise to $533.
Under current laws, eligibility for a disability parking permit is based on a person’s ability to walk, but the changes will now also include making people with vision impairment and their carers also eligible.
Those who qualify for disability permits are people unable to walk and require the use of a wheelchair, and people whose ability to walk is restricted due to a medical condition.
Those with intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive or sensory conditions do not meet the eligibility criteria unless they also have an impairment that affects the ability to walk, according to the Queensland Government.
Like other states, if a person’s speed or movement is restricted or impaired by a serious condition they are eligible for a disabled permit.
The South Australian government says to qualify for the permit a person also needs to have an impeded ability to use public transport.
For those with temporary disabilities, people can only apply for a permit if they will be impaired by their condition for six months or more.
In South Australia people will be fined $390 if they do not comply with disabled parking rules.
Anybody in Western Australia can apply for a disability parking permit if they have severe struggles to walk due to a temporary or permanent disability.
Similar to Queensland, people in WA who require the use of wheelchairs or have a temporary condition for more than six months that affects their ability to walk can apply for a permit.
Vision-impaired people however are not eligible in the state. According to the WA National Disability Services, only people with conditions affecting their ability to walk will be eligible.
Failing to comply with disabled parking rules in WA can see drivers hit with a $300 fine.
In Tasmania permits are not given to people with temporary disorders or conditions expected to improve in time.
But the Department of State Growth and Transport says those eligible will have issues with mobility where they can’t manage steps, uneven ground or inclines without the help of a walking aid.
It also applies to people who have to rest due to pain or breathlessness after walking a distance of 50 metres and who rely on wheelchairs to get around.
Vision-impaired people in Tasmania are also eligible to access the parking spots.
People who disobey disabled parking rules in Tasmania will be fined $168.
According to the City of Darwin, there are 3895 people in the city with a disabled parking permit.
In the Northern Territory, a person with a mobility issue must be in the car when the permit is being used.
A doctor’s report is required to confirm a person is eligible for a parking permit, and that includes conditions that affect a person’s mobility. Those with vision impairments do not qualify.
Breaking disabled parking rules in the Northern Territory comes with a $135 fine.
Debunking myths around disabled parking permits
According to Blue Badge Insurance Australia, there are a number of myths surrounding disabled parking permits and who can use them.
One myth is family and friends can use a disability permit, however it is illegal to use it unless the permit holder is also in the car.
Disability parking permits also don’t give people the right to park anywhere they want. According to Blue Badge, permit holders still can’t park in taxi and bus zones, no stopping areas or restricted spots like clearways, and can only use their permit in allocated disabled spots.
Some people are also under the impression once you get your hands on a permit you have it forever. But permit holders are required to renew them after three to five years and will be sent a reminder to do so weeks before a permit expires.
According to Blue Badge, others have also questioned whether disability permits can only be used in the state of issue. However they can be used anywhere in Australia, as long as drivers still follow the state’s road laws.
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