By Constable Bruce Elfant
In 1990 when President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with former senators Bob Dole and Ted Kennedy at his side, he said “Every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.” To be sure, much progress has been made over the last 20 years to ensure that all citizens are able to access public places.
Handicap parking spaces and ramps at businesses, schools and churches are near universal. Many doors to buildings and restrooms are now wider and more work areas are designed to accommodate wheel chairs.
The ADA has had a profound impact on the ability of people with disabilities to be able to participate in more activities in more places but two decades later far too many people still park illegally in handicap parking spaces, park on the diagonal stripes that are designated for van unloading and use other peoples handicap parking placards. So how do I know this?
In 1995 when my office began enforcing handicap parking laws throughout Travis County we issued about 1,000 tickets for handicap parking violations. The fine was $50. A few years later the Legislature doubled the fine to $100. The next year we issued about 1,200 tickets. Seven years ago the fine increased to $250 and the next year we wrote 1,500 tickets. Last year the fine was increased to $500 and we still expect to write more than 1,200 tickets. In 2006 my office published a study which determined that 65% of people who parked at parking-meters and handicap parking spaces in downtown Austin and around the Texas Capitol Complex were using someone else’s handicap parking placard in order to avoid paying for parking. It was estimated that the City of Austin lost about $500,000 in meter revenue that year. People who continue to park illegally in handicap parking spaces and at meters with someone else’s handicap parking placard are violating the rights of people with disabilities and they are stealing meter revenue from the taxpayers.
Since law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to effectively enforce handicap parking laws, each year we recruit and train 30 citizen volunteers. The volunteers help identify parking areas not in compliance with ADA, locate areas of habitual abuse and write handicap parking tickets. Applicants must live in Travis County, have no criminal convictions and attend a 4 hour training class mandated by the Texas Legislature. Applications which can be accessed at constable5.com (or mailed out) on request, should be submitted (must be original with signature) by Friday August 13.
As a result of unpredictable diseases, accidents, injuries from combat and aging, a record number of Americans become disabled each year. The goal of our Volunteer Handicap Parking Enforcement Program is to ensure that all citizens respect the rights and special needs of people with disabilities to be able to access, take advantage of and enjoy all the amenities that Travis County has to offer.