For almost 40 years, the accessible parking disc situation in South Africa has been uncoordinated. Will it ever get better?
In the 38 years that I have been a person with a disability, South Africa has experienced a disjointed and uncoordinated parking disc system. The process was cumbersome: we first had to appear before a panel of medical and paramedical experts to confirm that our disability was of a permanent nature and then our application was sent to the local municipality’s traffic department, which issued the disc.
This disc was only valid for one year, which meant that people with permanent mobility impairments had to fork out money each year to make arrangements for a condition that was not going to change. In addition, because this disc was issued by a specific municipality, it was not legally recognised by any other.
As a result, on many occasions, people with disabilities who travelled to another city or area within their own province were fined for parking in areas that were not covered by their own municipal disc. For incoming tourists, there were absolutely no options available to make use of any concessions when it came to parking.
As this arrangement clearly did not work, the disability sector agreed to look into negotiating with the Department of Transport for the issuing of a National Parking Disc. Well, we are still not there yet, nearly 15 years later!
The National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) is, at present, spearheading this task on behalf of the South African Disability Alliance (SADA) and I have had assurances that the matter is with their lawyers and results should be imminent.
So, what is available at present?
Most provinces have some sort of system in place to organise a parking disc (which is issued to the person and not the vehicle) through either an NGO within the disability sector or through a local municipal traffic department.
The Gauteng Association for People with Disabilities (APD) offers a service similar to the original one for the East Rand. The Pretoria traffic department allows a representative to apply on behalf of the person with a disability, as they do not have accessible parking available!
Johannesburg Traffic insists that the person has to apply in person. The QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) issues a parking permit that can be hung on the mirror, which looks quite official. Some people just use the official international sign of a white wheelchair on a blue background…
All of these options do not offer a legal solution to establish a nationally recognised parking disc – although QASA’s option is the closest. What happens to our international visitors who visit this country and need to make use of the parking bays? Sadly, enforcement is usually sporadic and applied against persons who have a valid disability, while others get away with it. See the photographs of the South African police parking in accessible bays!
An accessible parking bay is larger than the standard bay for a reason. It allows space for a person with a mobility impairment to place a mobility device next to the vehicle to transfer into or out of the vehicle. This being said, these bays should not be for elderly people who do not use a mobility device.
There is another point of contention about the bays being only used by drivers with mobility impairments. The thought is that if a person has an able-bodied driver, they can offload their passenger with a disability and park in a standard-sized bay and then bring the vehicle to the pick-up zone and load the passenger when leaving.
Therefore, there should be accessible bays close to the entrance of a building for persons using mobility aids as well as standard bays for the elderly (not using mobility aids). Owners of a car park need to have clear rules and regulations in place, as well as sensitised staff to ensure that the drivers use the correct bays.
If there were national regulations, the public could be properly informed and hopefully attitudes would change. It’s time we had a nationally recognised parking disc issued by one body that has access to a national database of persons with mobility impairments. We also need national regulations governing enforcement that will empower parking agencies and owners of parking areas to ensure that the authorised people park within these bays.
In the meantime, we carry on as best we can with whichever option we find available to us and keep on fighting those inconsiderate drivers who “are just going to be five minutes” or blatantly park within our limited accessible bays.
QASA has various ways available to “name and shame” these drivers. There are stickers to place on the windshield in front of the driver’s eyeline and a WhatsApp number (073 853 9675) to which you can send pictures of perpetrators.
For information on applications for QASA parking permits, contact Louise Pretorius via telephone at 031 767 0352 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on local parking disc applications, contact Fanie Swanepoel at NCPD via telephone at 011 452 2774 or email at FanieS@ncpd.org.za.
Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: email@example.com