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Are You Feeling Disabled

Columnist: Bob Andrews
December, 2016 Issue

Bob Andrews
All articles by columnist

Our lawmakers started with the laudable goal of making things more convenient for truly disabled persons.

A friend once told me, “I trace the decline of our society by the proliferation of disabled person parking spaces.” I thought about this as I counted 16 disabled person parking spaces outside offices (medical and otherwise) at 3883 Airway Drive in Santa Rosa. I thought about the comment again as I counted 18 disabled person parking spaces in the garage for the medical building at 500 Doyle Park Drive in Santa Rosa.

I drove around Santa Rosa and, of course, found disabled person parking spaces associated with businesses everywhere. Then I did some research and was shocked to learn that about one of every nine licensed drivers in California has a disabled person placard or license plate—that’s more than 2.5 million drivers! I realized that the greater problem is not so much the number of required spaces but instead the giveaway of disabled person placards and plates.

I went to the California DMV website (, which succinctly spells out how you, too, can get a placard or plate. The key language is quite powerful. Picture a “disabled” driver, who’s going to share the roadway with you, then read this: “You may qualify for a DP placard or DP license plate if you have impaired mobility due to having lost use of one or more lower extremities, or both hands or have a diagnosed disease that substantially impairs or interferes with mobility, or one who is severely disabled to be unable to move without the aid of an assistive device. You may also qualify if you have specific, documented visual problems, including lower-vision or partial-sightedness.” Maybe the disabled person is being driven by someone else, but my observation is that this is overwhelmingly NOT the case; the driver is usually alone.

Disabled person placards or plates are either free or almost free. The key document you need is a medical certificate from a “licensed physician, surgeon, physician assistant, nurse practitioner or certified midwife that has knowledge of the disease and/or disability.” Clearly, it isn’t difficult to get that certificate, just as there’s no big hurdle to getting a medical marijuana prescription.

Disabled person placards can be “temporary,” like the one I had for a few months after hip replacement surgery, or, more often, “permanent.” And the DMV really means “permanent”: the placard supposedly expires every two years, but the DMV automatically sends a new one, and there’s no recertification needed. Disabled person license plates are “permanent.”

There are big advantages involved here. If you have the placard or plate, you can park in up-front and close parking spaces. You don’t pay for metered parking and you can ignore time limits. You can park in areas that require resident or merchant permits.

Earlier this year, the Channel 10 TV news team in Sacramento drove around the city looking for placards and plates. In one two-block section downtown, they found that 31 out of 39 parkers had disability placards or plates. They found some of the same cars parked in the same places, day after day, thus reducing the number of spaces available to the general public.

I drove around the metered parking section of Santa Rosa’s downtown and found a fair number of disabled person placards and plates, some in designated spaces but more in just regular metered parking spaces. One was on a pickup truck parked in front of retail space being remodeled. The truck was loaded with tools and construction materials.

This is another Captain Obvious moment. Our lawmakers started with the laudable goal of making things more convenient for truly disabled persons. Then they applied the Full Monty of rules and regulations as to number of spaces required, size and configuration of spaces, signage, access conditions, application procedures, application costs, temporary versus permanent disability conditions and special rules for travelers. Finally, they went a step too far by saying people with the placards and plates don’t have to pay metered parking fees or observe time limits. Can you say, “It has that free taste”?

Free parking for people with disabled person placards or plates costs cities like Santa Rosa money. And it obviously encourages more and more people to apply for the placards and plates while decreasing available parking spaces for people who pay. Is there an alternative? Yes, there is.

A city in Michigan, alarmed at the proliferation of disabled person placards and plates, did away with free metered parking. The result was a 90 percent reduction in applications for placards and plates. Portland, Ore., now requires non-wheelchair-bound disabled persons to pay for parking, resulting in a decrease in placard applications and increase in available parking spaces. Similar legislation proposed earlier this year in California “went down in flames” according to the office of its sponsor, Assembly Member Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles). Captain Obvious is not surprised.


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