I’m disabled as a result of getting plowed off a motorcycle by a drink driver. With several vertebral injuries and having had 6 knee surgeries, the sum of which entail permanent chronic pain, I desperately need disabled access parking under the Mobility Parking Scheme (MPS).
The MPS is a real blessing for people who need it. It specifies not just the existence of disabled access parking spaces but it also exempts disabled access parking users from paying for metered parking- very helpful as MPS users commonly live on the pittance of a disability pension. The exemption from parking fees unfortunately means that MPS permits are widely abused, particularly at metered spaces in urban areas.
There’s a news item on a News Ltd website this morning on the MPS scheme; “Heavier fines urged for abuse of disabled car parking” in which Bill Shorten, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, is quoted as saying that abuse of the scheme is ‘obscene.’ He’s right. I frequently find cars without permits parked in MPS bays.
Dr Rhonda Galbally, who chairs the National People with Disabilities and Carers Council was also quoted in the News Ltd story:
“There is a black market trade in parking stickers,” Dr Galbally said. “People are swapping them, exchanging them and buying them.”
She’s quite right, as well.
However, the story continues:
Dr Galbally called for a crackdown on doctors who are authorising parking permits for people with little or no physical disability.
“The real question should be: can the person walk? If they can’t then they should get a permit.”
This quotation concerned me in no small way. Not every mobility disability entails that the sufferer is wheelchair-bound or even has a visibly obvious disability.
NSW RTA MPS eligibility rules currently specify:
To be eligible for an MPS card, a person must be disabled.
Under current legislation this means someone:
* Who is unable to walk due to the permanent or temporary loss of use of one or both legs or other permanent medical or physical condition; or
* Whose physical condition is detrimentally affected as a result of walking 100 metres; or
* Who requires the use of crutches, a walking frame, callipers, scooter, wheelchair or other similar mobility aid.
MPS cards are also available to people who are permanently blind.
Clearly, whether a person can walk or not is an oversimplification of MPS eligibility. Naturally, I was moved to write a brief note to Mr Shorten and Dr Galbally.
At 6.30am today, I sent my note to Mr Shorten via his Australian Parliament House website contact form:
Being a disabled pensioner who often finds able-bodied people without permits using disabled access parking spaces, I agree with increased penalties for unlawful use of MPS spaces. Yes, increase the fines for illegal use of said spaces (you could start at $500 per incident of abuse)… but PLEASE be *very* careful with eligibility requirements.
[...]I absolutely thank my lucky stars every time I can find an MPS space near where I need to be. The MPS really does make all the difference in the world to me.
However, I’m not 80 years old, I don’t need a wheelchair (yet) and I can get about without my walking stick for very short walks (20-30m or so, once a day). You wouldn’t believe how many self-appointed experts on disability confront me when I park in an MPS space, with their ill-thought notions of what ‘disability’ really is. Not every disability is visibly obvious to casual observers.
When you’re crafting MPS eligibility rules, please use extreme care. Disability comes in many shapes and sizes, but it’s none of the general public’s business what my medical history may be. Being confronted by self-appointed disability experts on the street who think that a person doesn’t deserve an MPS permit unless grey-haired and wheelchair-bound is almost as bad as disability itself.
Yes, I understand that MPS permits are abused, you don’t have to convince me of that. As Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, you’re in an unenviable position. MPS eligibility should indeed only be granted to people who really do need it, but please don’t craft any legislation which disadvantages folks like me who absolutely need MPS permits but may not fit the uninformed general public’s perceptions of what being disabled actually entails nor empowers those trying to be helpful in protecting MPS spaces from abuse to confront disabled people. I should never be under any obligation to detail my medical history to kerbside inquisitors.
At 6.57am, my phone rang. It was Bill Shorten.
Bill thanked me for my note and said that he agreed with my comments and would use care in crafting any new legislation to assure that people who really need MPS permits would be able to get them.
27 minutes has got to be a new world record for responsiveness from any politician.
Bravo, Bill- and thanks much for the call.
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