Accessibility and Inclusivity in Disability Parking

woman with visible disability park in disability parking bay.

Disabled parking bays are vital for mobility for access for people with mobility challenges. The prevalence of able drivers either misunderstanding the rules and signage or thoughtlessly parking in those spots,  often hinders the effectiveness of disability bay parking.  For example, cross-hatched shared access bays next to designated accessible parking bays are intended for wheelchair ramp deployment. But far too often, able-bodied drivers overlook this reserved area, and park in these spaces. This results in people with accessibility challenges being inconvenienced and frustrated because they can’t get in or out of their vehicle with a wheelchair.

In this blog we’ll discuss some of the challenges that persons with disabilities (both visible and invisible)  have to deal with when parking, and how we can help to solve them.

Increase of Disability Parking Permit Holders

There’s been an incredible increase in the number of disability parking permit holders over the last 15 years. A recent report from Transport for NSW shows there were 417,000 mobility permit holders at the end of March 2023 compared with 389,000 in March 2017, 336,000 in March 2012 and 277,000 in March 2007. [1]

The different types of Disabilities

Visible disabilities

Most people easily identify with visible disabilities – those you can readily see, or notice, and which are apparent to others. Most often those  affecting physical appearance or mobility. Think of someone using a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury or an individual with a visible facial disfigurement. These disabilities are generally noticeable at first glance.

  • Mobility impairments : such as those caused by amputations or musculoskeletal disorders like arthritis, fall under the category of visible disabilities. Similarly, vision and hearing impairments are also visible, impacting an individual’s ability to see or hear. These disabilities often require visible aids or accommodations, like guide dogs or hearing aids.
  • Intellectual disabilities : while not always immediately visible, may manifest through physical characteristics or behaviours. Down syndrome, for instance, can be identified by certain facial features. These disabilities may require specialised education or support services tailored to individual needs.

Invisible disabilities 

While many disabilities are visible, such as those requiring mobility aids, it’s essential to acknowledge that not all disabilities are apparent. Individuals with invisible disabilities face unique challenges, including accessing designated parking spaces. Conditions like chronic pain, mental health disorders, and autoimmune diseases can significantly impact an individual’s ability to navigate parking lots and public spaces.

  • Mental health disorders : including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD, are also invisible disabilities. Despite their lack of visibility, these conditions can profoundly impact an individual’s daily functioning and overall well-being.
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders : like autism spectrum disorder and ADHD are invisible disabilities that affect cognitive and behavioural functioning. Similarly, chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or lupus may not be visible externally but can significantly impact one’s quality of life.
  • Cognitive impairments : resulting from traumatic brain injuries or dementia are also considered invisible disabilities. These conditions may not be immediately apparent in social interactions but can present significant challenges in memory, communication, and cognitive processing.

Frustrations and Behaviours that are problematic for Disabled Drivers

As disabled drivers navigate the roads, they often encounter problematic behaviours of non-disabled drivers.

Verbal and Physical Abuse

Blue Badge Insurance conducted a survey to 823 people with disabilities that aren’t so obvious. Survey found 74% or 403 of persons with a disability had been harassed or abused for not looking disabled. And that of those 21% had encountered physical abuse as well.

With Verbal and Physical abuse incidents respondents often go home empty-handed due to all accessible parking being occupied. 

Examples of poor behaviour around disabled bays include:

  • Misuse of Disabled Parking Space: The most common frustrations of disabled drivers is the misuse of accessible parking spaces. This category is drivers who do not have any accessibility issues parking in those disabled bays. Without a permit, and without a need. Moreso because they can’t find an available parking spot anywhere else. So it’s quite selfish behaviour. This leaves those disabled drivers in need with limited options and added stress.
  • Parking Lot Etiquette Ignorance: Non-disabled drivers may block access aisles or park too close to accessible spots. Making it difficult for disabled individuals to enter or exit their vehicles. For example, the hashed, or “crosshatch” area – which is the area directly next to handicap parking spots which is painted with stripes or crosses. This is often one of the most critical aspects for disabled parking as it allows extra area for wheelchair users to use the ramp on their vehicle. Or get in or out of their vehicle if they are transferring. Even if you leave the disabled parking bay vacant, but someone parks across the ‘crosshatch” area, it means that disabled person can’t get their wheelchair out. And using the disabled parking bay is not available at all. 
  • Impatience and Aggression : Some drivers display impatience or aggression towards disabled drivers, honking horns or tailgating, which can be intimidating and unsafe. 

Reported Incidents Illustrate the Urgency of the Issue

Numerous reports detail incidents faced by disabled drivers, shared on social media, reported to the police, or through apps like Snap, Send, and Solve. These are just a few examples below:

  • Improper parking over a shared access zone. In a incident Westfield Carousel shopping centre in Perth, a disabled woman couldn’t access her vehicle because another driver parked improperly in the “cross-hatched” shared access zone. This meant she couldn’t deploy her wheelchair access ramp, effectively trapping her!
  • Using other disabled permit. In ACT, 272 infringements incident were issued to drivers in just one month (15 February to 15 March 2019 inclusive) for using lost, stolen or invalid disability parking permits. An additional 307 infringements have been issued up until 15 June 2019.
  • Bias against “invisible” disabilities. An incident at the Gungahlin shopping centre in Canberra, Australia, highlights the challenges people with invisible disabilities face. Here, a woman and her mother returned to their car after shopping, to find a rude  insensitive note on their windscreen.The note read: “Hi, are you [truly] disabled? You both walked from your car like athletes. Please follow the rules.” What the note’s author didn’t know is that the woman’s mother actually had a debilitating liver and kidney condition, the symptoms of which are invisible, but can cause debilitating pain while walking. While her mother may have appeared physically capable, the challenges she faces are not immediately apparent to outsiders.
  • In Annandale, a parent of a disabled child was forced to carry their daughter to a playground after a driver occupied the last disability spot.
  • In Gregory Hills, a driver recklessly parked across two disabled spots, endangering pedestrians in the process.
  • In Punchbowl, a parent had to carry their child to a play centre because of a thoughtless parker.
  • In Rockdale, ignorant drivers consistently occupy disability parking bays, creating daily challenges for disabled individuals.

How do disabled drivers address these challenges?

It’s a hotly contested topic. Trust me I’ve been in the thick of it!

Parking disputes over disabled spots often occur, causing unpleasant, stressful, and potentially hostile situations for those involved in person. But also sparking debates on social media platforms. Individuals rightfully express their frustrations, citing instances where they’ve been inconvenienced or even endangered by thoughtless parking practices. Reports sent to community platforms like SnapSendSolve app help by shedding light on the extent of the problem, detailing instances where disabled individuals are left struggling due to inconsiderate parking behaviour. 

How can we improve the situation?

The examples above underscore that we really need to do better. To be more aware, considerate and understanding of those with disabilities and their genuine need to access accessible parking bays. 

Not only around behaviour, but around enforcement

Australia enforces strict rules for disabled parking bays to prioritize those in genuine need, safeguarding access for individuals with disabilities. Explore fines for misusing disabled parking bays across states, empowering all to comprehend and respect road regulations regarding accessibility.

StateDisability Parking Fine Amount
New South Wales$581, plus one demerit point
Victoria$192 – $385
Australian Capital Territory$120-600
Western Australia$500- $5,000
South Australia$532
Northern Territory$300

The clear intent of these fines and regulations is to penalise those violating the parking and road rules. Ensure that those specifically identified and created disability parking bays are available for those who need them.

And fines are necessary for excessive behaviour, but why not try preventative measures. Technology can accomplish this.


Leveraging Technology to stop people parking in disabled parking spots

At thatsMYspot, we go beyond individual efforts to tackle this issue. Our parking bollard solutions aim to support individuals and parking providers in guaranteeing fair and guaranteed access to disability parking. By leveraging technology and fostering awareness, we actively work towards creating a more inclusive environment where everyone can navigate public spaces with dignity and ease.

Our remote control automatic parking bollards actively stop unauthorised parking in designated parking bays. With over 15 years of experience, we’ve garnered positive feedback for our dedication to resolve parking problems. Through our smart  parking solutions, we ensure that every designated parking space remains available and accessible.

The installation of parking bollards within these designated bays plays a pivotal role in preventing unauthorised vehicles from occupying these spaces. These barriers not only deter misuse but also signify our commitment to creating environments that are truly accessible to all. The enforcement of fines for misusing disability parking bays serves as a vital mechanism in upholding accessibility. Ensuring that these designated spaces remain available for those who truly need them.