Is Australia running out of disability parking?
4.3 million Australians are faced with a disability and this number will only increase as our population ages.
This is evidenced by the number of disabled parking permits issued in Australia soaring by 60% since 2007.
In New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, a mere 2% of shopping centre parking is required to be accessible, and that percentage drops to a mere 1% in residential locations. This level is disproportionately low when 8% of the state’s drivers a disability parking permit and need to use accessible parking bays.
The problem that results is that Australian local municipalities are struggling to keep pace with this increasing demand for accessible parking bays, and there is no clear path to a solution.
Which leads to the question:
How can we cleverly solve the need for more disability parking without building more parking bays?
Accessible Parking Bays – A Finite Resource?
Though tempting to think that the obvious solution is rolling out more disability parking bays, this is not always feasible or quick. Factors such as:
- city planning could impact the timing of new building design
- retrofitting regular parking bays into existing retail, commercial, strata and other private locations will require capital expense which may not have been budgeted in these buildings
- replacing regular parking bays with accessible ones in high-density areas which significant existing parking issues may also experience negative driver sentiment.
- Whether new accessible parking spaces can actually be physically built at all in the limited parking areas available, due to additional size and access requirements.
These barriers to simply installing more accessible bays are issues that need to be resolved, especially in areas which experience general parking shortages in high-density city areas. And that navigating local municipalities and councils in Australia is a slow process.
A more immediate answer may well lie in innovative solutions to address the problem. For example, better allocation of parking resources through shifting models of bay usage, or deeper research into the average length of stay for mobility scheme participants to ensure the ecosystem of existing bays is never underutilised.
Another solution may lie in individual bay management enforcement, such as parking chains or parking bollards. At That’s My Spot, we’ve seen an increased demand for our parking bollards from a subset of the population we initially did not expect – users with disabilities, or users trying to enforce fair usage of accessible bays for those who need it.
Parking bollards have managed to secure individual parking bays for residential strata buildings, commercial office or warehouse buildings, shopping centres, apartments, airports and residents with little to no fuss, allowing drivers with disabilities to book a bay in advance and have certainty around access to a disabled parking bay before they leave the house. Parking bollards also address the widespread issue of drivers who park next to disability bays, such as over gore zones, restricting ramp access for wheelchairs or other mobility aid, which require a wide berth to embark and disembark from their vehicles.
So let’s put our thinking caps on to figure out how to allocate disability parking bays better.
Attitudes on Disabilities
There is one more barrier to making accessible parking live up to its name – and that’s a social barrier. Public misconceptions and harmful stereotypes about “who classifies as disabled” can be hugely prohibitive to easy, stress-free usage of accessible parking, and merit mention in just about any discussion about disability access.
Too many perceptions are around disabilities having to be physical “visible” disabilities – such as a wheelchair, a walking aid, or other medical equipment, or a disability you can see. However, of the 4.3 million Australians with a disability, only 4.4% require a wheelchair. This leaves majority of the people stepping out of their car, who have qualified for their disability parking permit, looking ostensibly no different from anyone else and at risk of ill-informed abuse from a vigilante member of the public.
Unfortunately, verbal abuse is often levied against disabled permit holders to the tune of them seeming to “walk just fine”. With as many as 9 in 10 disabilities being “invisible” to onlookers, the public perception has become needlessly inflamed by the idea that there is widespread abuse of accessible parking bays simply because they cannot interpret the disability at first glance. And the abuse takes a manifold of forms other than verbal – including angry notes, dirty looks, or even keying of cars.
This fear of shame, heckling, or even worse harassment has stymied people’s ability to effectively access the accessible parking they need. Imagine having a crippling cognitive or social disability, and knowing that simply through parking, you may incur undue aggression from members of the public.
This, of course, is a failure of a system designed to protect this subset of the population. Such public perceptions deserve equal merit in the fight against why disability parking in Australia, and indeed the world, is not nearly as accessible as it should be.
And the issue is indeed on a global scale. One US survey put to the general population discovered that the misunderstanding surrounding what qualifies as a disability is so rampant, that as many as 74% of respondents indicated they had witnessed disability bay misuse. Numbers like these are doubtlessly inflated by misconception.
The reality of disability parking has always been a contentious issue – one that governments are embattled with worldwide. And while the dust settles, real people are grappling to go about their daily lives. It is an issue that That’s My Spot CEO, Angelique Mentis, in her role as a Board Director at Parking Australia, is keenly digging into as part of the state’s trajectory for equitable accessible parking.
Australia may not be running out of disability parking bays, but it is certainly going to feel that way unless we find a better way to utilise them.