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Handicapped parking wars

By Marc Fisher

Martena Clinton, the woman who lost her Lexus after the Secret Service towed it from a handicapped parking space during an appearance by President Obama at the Washington Convention Center, has caught a lot of flak in recent days for using her husband's handicapped parking placard to get her choice parking spot. District regulations stipulate that a caregiver or relative can't use the placard unless the person to whom the placard was issued is present. Investigations in other cities into handicapped parking permit abuse found this problem was rampant as scofflaws used permits even after their handicapped relatives died. Some people even passed the placards down like family heirlooms. Do you have a story about handicapped parking permit abuse in the District? If so, I'd Iike to hear it at shina AT or on the comment boards below. Thanks.

By Marc Fisher  | September 22, 2010; 10:07 AM ET
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Considering that Mrs. Clinton's Lexus was only moved about two blocks away, and she couldn't find it after hours of looking, I think it is safe to say that she is in fact handicapped - she's legally blind.

Posted by: tk7slam | September 22, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Do I have a story of handicap parking permit fraud in DC? It is absolutely rampant in DC. Come on down to 12th and C Street, SW, and the street parallel to it next to the Portals building behind the Dept of Agriculture and see for yourself. Or on the streets in and around L'Enfant Plaza. Or probably any government building. Pick any day, Monday through Friday, 9am - 5pm, and you will see for yourself the abuse in full daylight. The majority of metered and nonmetered spaces are taken all day long with these folks, mostly from Maryland commuters. Why DC allows vehicles with handicap placards to park for free (and for twice as long) is nothing short of bizarre. Meter after meter flash red all day long...meaning no much-needed revenue coming in that DC so desperately needs. We don't park for free at Metro parking lots if we're handicapped...or in parking garages, do we? Nope.
Come on down...snap some to DDOT, DPW, DMV and the City Council and see what they have to say about this.

Posted by: Permitfraud | September 22, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Don't try this in Ft. Lauderdale because they'll throw you into Gitmo. It's hard to believe DC would ignore this lucrative source of revenue. Wasn't there a bust at the Alexandria DMV a few years back? Employees were selling these permits under the counter? They went to jail.

Posted by: bikes-everywhere | September 22, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

A man was arrested in Maryland last year for stealing handicap placards from people's vehicles. The Post reported on it. Think the guy had 19 placards on him. He was selling them for $50 each. Pretty good deal to avoid having to pay for parking in DC when you drive in for work each day.

Posted by: Permitfraud | September 22, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I am on campus of a large university and see handicapped parking abuse all the time. Very able bodied young people would pull into a handicapped spot, look around to see if anybody was close and if not, would put their handicapped hang tag on the rear view mirror and scurry away, or put it on the dash so you could not see the info about age, sex, birthday, expiration date. Almost all the time, the birth date was for someone much older than what the driver looked like and/or a different sex. I have even seen drivers run into a building from their handicapped parking spot, probably because they were late for class. Shame on you!

Posted by: onmybike | September 23, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

The hardest problem with this is how to enforce it? You can't have parking authority or police watching every space. Even if they are approached by the law, the response is usually "my mom, dad, aunt or uncle is inside. I'm just driving them." I believe the placards should just be eliminated and everyone who qualifies for the disabled parking must get hard tags issued by DMV to the vehicle, not the person. That way the owner must show proof every year or two at renewal that they still require the tags. Renewal must be done in person with an updated doctors approval from DMV. This may be a hardship on the disabled person, but they'll be able to park in the closest space at the DMV and have easy access to get inside. Also the placard expirations are small and hard to see, make them bigger and make the language of the law more strict; if not hung properly (not on the dash, glove box, door compartment) you still get the ticket. People leave those placards anywhere in their car and expect not to get a ticket. Put the responsiblility on the driver, not the law to search the car for the stupid thing. The fraudulant use of the placard is almost non enforcable. If you observe someone without a tag in a space, call the local authority. In Fairfax County the fine is $500 now.

Posted by: Dustoff1968 | September 23, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Temporary Placcards are the most abused permits everywhere! I have seen people get out of sportcars, pickup trucks (with heavy equipment), teenagers, and other very physically capable people put those cards up on the mirror when they park at grocery stores, banks, every imaginable location. One family in my neighborhood got a placcard after the wife had foot surgery over 2 years ago and her husband uses it every time he goes anywhere. He plays athletic sports and I fume every time I see his car with the placcard displayed in a handicapped space. How long is the placcard good for? I see residents still use the placcard after their spouse has passed away. Doesn't MVA request it be returned? The comments expressed by your readers about Martena in Clinton was right. I actually cheered when she wasn't able to locate her car. Maybe the citizens who know of abuses of the placcard need to get involved and report those instances.

Posted by: Ritaatthebeach | September 23, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Don't assume that everyone who looks able-bodied to you should not have a handicap permit. That's up to their doctor to decide, not for you to judge.

Posted by: lilkender | September 23, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

The abuse of handicap stickers is rampent and the free parking allowed permit users is a major contributer to that fact. The blantant abuse of the sticker by Martena Clinton being a case in point.

I really didn't pay too much attention to handicap rules until my wife broke an ankle, having to use cruches and then a cane. Usually, there were no unoccupied handicap spaces to be found. When I was driving we never used the sticker because I could drop her off and go park but when she was by herself, it was tough.

Also, HC cards are handed out to way too many people who really don't need them. Another case in point: My accountant had a heart transplant 10 years ago. Nice guy and all but he has one. Now here's a guy that's been advised to get excercise yet the Doc HANDS HIM AN HC STICKER.

Come to think of it, many people like him should not be given an HC sticker but a sticker that PROHIBITS him from parking within 200' of the door to an office building or mall or there's a $100 fine....wink.

Second, I know one can't judge a persons condition by looks but there's people who are just plain obese (no other medical condition), and have one.

Finally, the term of some of these stickers is just way too long. My wife's first one was for 6 months and we had to renew it for another 3 until she was off the cane but a guy in her office broke his leg and his Doc signed him up for 2 years of which the last 18 months the sticker was abused. He was back to playing tennis but used the sticker everyday.

So: 1)No free parking, 2)Give stickers to people who really need them and 3)Keep the term of the sticker within the likely time the person will need it. If the person needs it longer, it's a trip to to the DMV, but better that then abuse.

Posted by: runnerguy | September 23, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the hangtags are handed out left and right and abused. But the problem is really with the physicians who are signing the forms reguired to get the the hangtag and/or vehicle tags from DMV (Maryland). I, too, see young, healthy-looking adults, usually female, pulling into HC parking spaces at Target, Safeway, or CVS, and whipping out grandma's or grandpa's hangtag before casually strolling into the store, seemingly without any sense of guilt over misusing the privilege afforded to their relatives. But, like someone else here said, how do you enforce it? People who abuse the HC hangtags have a false sense of entitlement, so personal integrity on their part is a thing of the past.

Posted by: dstreet208 | September 24, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

As lilkender implied above, the disability status of many people with significant impairments affecting mobility may NOT be at all obvious to the stranger passing by. Disabilities and illnesses which cannot immediately be perceived in casual social contact are termed "invisible." And so while it is absolutely clear that there is indeed a great deal of abuse of handicapped parking permits by able-bodied family members of the people issued those permits, both "disabled" and able-bodied people alike should proceed carefully before deciding to glare at or confront a person who *seems* to be abusing a permit. For people with invisible disabilities, life is made much more difficult than it already must be by well-meaning people who cannot perceive their impairments. As a person with multiple invisible health conditions, I often hear comments such as, "Well, you don't seem sick to me!" when the conditions are mentioned casually in conversation.

Some of us with invisible disabilities have *fluctuating* levels of problems with mobility, which is particularly confusing to the casual onlooker. I have both a vestibular disorder, which affects balance and motor coordination, and narcolepsy, an autoimmune neurodegenerative disorder which disrupts both sleep and waking states. When I am relatively well-rested and can take a particular medication, I can walk quickly and run easily. But at times when I am very tired and/or cannot take that medication, I am extremely prone to hurt myself in uncontrolled falls and other accidents resulting from problems with balance and motor control. Often I will cycle through states of good motor control and extremely poor motor control *within the same day*. So if you see me walking to the bus stop or maneuvering around the Metro train station tomorrow morning, you might notice that my backpacker's "hiking sticks" (which work better than traditional canes for my particular difficulty) have been collapsed and attached to my backpack. But later on in the day, you may see me walking carefully and slowly, using my hiking sticks to improve my balance and to prevent falls.

Since I don't drive anymore and can maneuver well enough with my hiking sticks that I can still cover sufficient distances, at this point I have no need for a handicapped parking permit. But I can easily imagine the day when my motor coordination problems may become so severe *when they are present* that my family may indeed need to get a handicapped permit for our car. When that day comes, and my family members and I hop easily out of the car after parking, what casual bystander will imagine that we are parking in the handicapped space because we know that when we return to the car in several hours, I will be very tired and therefor unable to safely walk the distance back to a more distant parking space?

For the sake of people with invisible and/or fluctuating impairments, let's all proceed with caution and compassion prior to confrontation.

Posted by: SaraiahN | September 26, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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