The impersonation of disabled people is rampant in Toronto. (Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)
The impersonation of people with disabilities is rampant in Toronto and other cities across the country. At any given moment, our city streets are teeming with imposters. These opportunists may not be stealing identities to rack up credit card debt but rather are capitalizing on the ways in which we try to make the difficult life of the disabled a little easier, in this case, parking. Convenience is what they are after and will even take advantage of a loved one’s death to secure it.
Navigating one’s way through the narrow downtown Toronto streets produces anxiety in the most able-bodied among us. In order to find parking, it’s typical to begin looking for open spots while still blocks away from your destination. This is not an option for the disabled. That’s why the city makes special accommodations for those who require them. With an accessible parking pass, drivers with disabilities can park for free, can exceed time limits and park in no-parking areas.
Because of the chance to avoid the high price of downtown parking, a wave of accessibility-parking-pass misuse has been rolling back and forth in Toronto, causing city officials to search for answers.
The CBC reported that from 2014 to 2016, the number of accessible parking permits seized for misuse increased by 60 percent to 1,350. In 2016, police issued 16,104 tickets for parking permit abuse, reported the Sun. The maximum fine for misusing a permit is $5,000.
Recently, CBC Toronto did an investigation, where they surveyed vehicles in downtown Toronto. They found 45 vehicles parked and 32 of them had accessibility permits.
In order to obtain what many Torontonians see as a free-parking pass, one must apply with Service Ontario. They need to show they cannot walk without assistance, suffer from a lung disease, use a portable oxygen tank, suffer from cardiovascular disease, or be “severely limited in ability to walk” from some other condition. A medical professional has to sign a letter that one of the above applies to you.
Many people use the permits that were issued to a family member. Some keep the permits of their dead relatives to use themselves. Others just forge their doctor’s note.
As the city tried to grasp the idea that their citizens are using disability accommodation as a loophole, they’ve come up with a few options. In New York, applicants can be required to attend an independent exam if their documentation is sketchy. Chief of Police Mark Saunders said he thinks they should crack down on those who don’t turn in temporary permits or those for their deceased kin.
Another option is including a photo on the permit. But this remedy could lead to privacy issues, with a photo on display that those passing by can easily see.
The police have a ten-person unit assigned to stakeout suspicious parked vehicles and deliver fines to any abled fraud. But this is also a minefield. It is hard to tell if a driver has a cardiovascular or respiratory condition. The Ontario Human Rights Code also demands that the officers “recognize the privacy, confidentiality, comfort, autonomy and self-esteem of people with disabilities,” which means the situation has to be dealt with delicately.`
Of course, for every one car pretending to require special accommodation, the possibility exists that a car containing a real disabled person will not be able to find a spot, forcing them to walk, risk injury or aggravate symptoms of an illness.
Anyone can relate to a desire to get one over the parking authorities. None of us is warm to them. But the victim of this transgression is not those to whom you’ve paid your hard-earned money for parking tickets. The victims are the disabled that have to wait around until a spot opens up because they do not have the option to walk a few blocks like you do.
The news stories on Toronto’s rampant abuse of accessibility permits are full of anecdotes from people saying the same thing. They drive around, unable to find a spot, waiting for a disabled-only space to open up. When it does, the person driving the car out of it appears in perfect physical health.
Getting around the overcrowded and congested nightmare that is Toronto can test the limits of the most composed and grounded. This is felt by disabled drivers too. On top of that, circumstance or misfortune has assigned to them a double-serving of pain-in-the-ass because their options to safely and comfortably arrive at their destination are narrow. They badly need this accommodation for conditions they didn’t ask for, which cause them difficulty that those of us without them cannot understand.