NATASHA KEPERT is a town planner who is currently recovering from a nasty trampoline accident. Her injury prompted this THINKING ALLOWED on the provision of disabled parking.
ONCE I would have been highly critical of people who parked in disabled bays, without an ACROD sticker. Not any more. I don’t believe we should allow absolutely anyone to park in a disabled parking bay, aka universal access bay. But in the last month I have become aware of the restrictive bureaucracy surrounding ACROD permits, and how the system is designed so that many people who could sorely use them are not able to obtain them.
A month ago, I tore my calf muscle badly in an accident.
My doctor told me I would probably not be able to put weight on the leg for a month. After a couple of days of struggling to get around, I googled “ACROD permits” to find out how I could obtain one.
What I found was that the current system does not allow permits to be issued to anyone who has a disability for less than 6 months. One might be granted in “exceptional circumstances”, but the website implied these were very rare.
To apply at all, you would need to submit a comprehensive form, completed by your doctor, and then wait at least ten working days for the application to be processed.
I thought this was rather crazy. Working at a council, I have often explained to planning applicants (particularly small businesses) that they need to redesign their parking plans to provide the requisite number of disabled bays.
They often resist, as one disabled bay takes up the same space as two standard bays, and redrawing plans may mean losing floorspace.
They may say that their business doesn’t have any disabled customers – sometimes quite a plausible argument, in the case of karate studios or trades suppliers. I’ve tended to argue that point with: Yes, but what if one of your staff members breaks a leg? They can relate to this situation as being more likely to happen.
I have been quite surprised to find out that, just because you have a torn Achilles tendon, or have recently had major surgery, or are 9 months pregnant with twins, or are suffering from serious pain which has had a relatively sudden onset, is no justification for you to make use of a disabled bay, according to the ACROD guidelines.
Recently, being able to park close to my destination has made a huge difference to whether I can carry out an expedition or not.
I had a recent experience in a Fremantle public carpark where only one lift, and only one ticket machine, on opposite sides of the building, were working.
It took so long to get back to my car that my payment had expired before I got to the boom gate.
It’s very difficult to carry much while on crutches (particularly shopping) and in heavy rain it’s particularly unpleasant to be parked far from building entrances.
I’ve been extremely fortunate that my employer has allowed me to park near the front door at work, but many others are not so lucky.
Allowing temporarily injured people to park in disabled spaces is of real benefit to us, and hopefully allows us to heal better and faster. I’m not asking to be allowed to use a disabled bay forever, just while I need it.
I have written to National Disability Services, who administer the ACROD permits, to query why they do not offer short term parking permits.
They have replied that they are “not authorised to set criteria that is in addition to that set by government.”
The officer also advised that “in my experience, cases of temporary permits issued for people with walking restrictions of less than six months have been rare, and involve individual combinations of disability, health conditions and available personal supports”.
I find it hard to understand the position that disabled parking bays should be only for those with long term disabilities. Are disabled bays so preciously rare that they need to be tightly guarded?
It seems strange, when we so frequently see these bays sitting vacant. But if the NDS thinks there is a shortage, they should be lobbying for more bays to be provided, by changing the Australian Standard.
I can understand that the NDS’s bureaucratic processes mean that by the time an application has been assessed, many people’s injuries will be healed or well on the way, with then relatively little benefit to be gained from a permit.
The answer to this is to give doctors (and possibly physiotherapists and occupational therapists) the power to issue patients temporary permits to park in disabled bays.
These permits could be clearly marked with an expiry date (similar to the old rego stickers which displayed the month of expiry prominently).
These health professionals are in a better position to estimate how long a person may be suffering from an illness or injury, than someone simply looking at some paperwork.
The NDS do not provide or pay for the bays, they are simply a gatekeeper dictating who may use them.
It seems to me that if they are unable to cater to people with a need for short term assistance, this role should be given to someone else who can.
It is fantastic that we now recognise the public benefit in providing carbays specifically to assist people with physical incapacity.
If only the system could also provide assistance for people whose problem is “acute” and not long term. Which would help many more of us.