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Service Ontario rolls out new safeguards against people without disabilities taking advantage of accessible parking spots and free parking
The government of Ontario has launched new accessible parking permits (APP) to combat abuse by those who don’t need them.
In Toronto alone, parking enforcement investigated and retained more than 800 APPs and charged over 700 people with abuse-related offences in 2015. Those numbers matched similar stats from the previous year.
So after consultation with parking enforcement and other stakeholders at the end of 2015, Service Ontario is issuing new permits featuring scannable barcodes that identify their the proper owner, along with copy-resistant markings and serial numbers to indicate authenticity. For scanning purposes, they will no longer be laminated and those applying for a permit on someone else’s behalf will need to show a letter of authorization or a power of attorney document.
“It’s a shame that government has to take this route but it will go a long way to stop the abuse – at least until the abusers figure out a way around the new security measures,” says Sandra Carpenter, executive director of Toronto’s Centre for Independent Living.
Applicants will also need to present I.D. that features their legal name, date of birth and signature before they are given their permit, something I didn’t need to do when I changed my own permit and noted it as a problem in a previous article addressing this issue.
“Accessible parking permits are of utmost importance for persons with disabilities. A stronger, more secure permit will help root out misuse and ensure spaces are more available to those who need them,” says David Orazietti, Ontario’s Minister of Government and Consumer Services.
Scott Wylie, supervisor of Toronto Parking Enforcement’s Disabled Liaison Unit, says the new changes will make the permit easier to spot and certainly copy-resistant, but it won’t be able to stop all forms of misuse.
“There’s nothing to stop someone from using their disabled aunt’s permit or covering the dates indicating its validity,” says Wylie.
Plus the permit holder’s identification, including the scannable barcode, is still on the back of the permit, so parking enforcement officers will still need to ask for the permit to verify the holder’s identity. And at the moment, only the government – not enforcement officers – can scan them.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the identifying information behind that barcode through our database as well,” says Wylie. “We just haven’t connected that yet.”
Holders of the old permit will not need to get the one until their permit expires (every five years for permanent disabilities and six months for temporary disabilities) so there will be a mixture of the old and new permit on the street, which will admittedly make an enforcement officer’s job a little bit harder for a while.
“The permits that people are able to alter are still going to be around for a little bit, so we’re just going to have to be more diligent in looking as a full enforcement arm,” says Wylie.
“The Disabled Liaison Unit deals with these permits everyday so it won’t be too much of an issue, but it might cause more difficulty for the average, every day officer.
Still, Toronto residents with disabilities are hopeful. Maayan Ziv, founder of AccessNOW – a mobile app that crowdsources the accessibility of locations worldwide – doesn’t drive. But she says she’s seen people who she suspects are not disabled using accessible parking spots.
“I think it’s really great that the government is making strides towards creating a change there, but I still have concerns about those parking permits that are already out, floating around and used by people who don’t need them.”
There are currently more than 700,000 APPs in circulation across Ontario and 194,000 permits were issued between March 2014 and April 2015.
“There is a problem at the other end too,” says Carpenter. “By that I mean those who issue permits frivolously in the first place. There needs to be a high-profile education campaign to educate doctors as to the true purpose of the permits and it isn’t just one of ‘convenience.’”
Though further changes to the APP program addressing greater security and accessibility have been discussed, Anne-Marie Flanagan, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry for Government and Consumer Services says you’ll likely not see them for another few years. Meanwhile, the medical criteria for APP eligibility remains unchanged.
For Wylie it remains a delicate balance between catching the people who abuse these permits and maintaining the proper services for those that legitimately need them.
“We don’t want to take away the ability we have assist people with disabilities, but we certainly want to enforce the laws against the people who are abusing them and that makes it easier for the people who deserve those extra considerations that we grant,” says Wylie.
To that end, all parking enforcement officials receive mandatory training on the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and how to properly treat people with disabilities with dignity while on patrol.
“We’ve all had to have the training done by the end of last year and even since then we’ve had a module added on how to treat people with disabilities with the respect that they deserve,” says Wylie.
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