More MS news articles for January 1999

Law just the ticket for handicap agency

Group to receive about $6,000 from fines paid by those who park illegally in spaces for disabled

Beacon Journal staff writer
Published Sunday, January 24, 1999

Able-bodied people who illegally park in handicapped in the Akron spaces in Akron are now paying to help the group of people they wronged.

That's because the city of Akron began a couple of years ago to earmark a quarter of the fine money paid by those who park in handicap spaces for handicapped-related Search for educational purposes.

Tomorrow, Akron City Council is expected to vote on a proposal to award about $6,000 of last year's fine money to the Tri-County Independent Living Inc.

Tri-County, an East Akron nonprofit agency, helped write the city's 1995 handicapped parking legislation, which raised the fine for illegally parking in handicap spaces from $15 to $100.

The agency lobbies on behalf of the handicapped.

The five-person staff of Tri-County also provides advocacy and peer support programs to people with handicaps and helps them purchase goods and services to lead independent lives -- such as wheelchair ramps, elevating platforms and hearing aids, if government or private insurance will not pick up the tab.

"Our whole focus is to create an environment that is accessible to people with disability and make those people independent of institutions," said Rose Juriga, executive director of Tri-County.

Healthy people who park in close-up spots reserved for the disabled are a sore spot for the handicap activists.

Not only are they "insensitive" says Juriga, but taking those spots "prevents a segment of the population from going on about its daily life and doing things that everyone else takes for granted," Juriga said.

The $6,000 in fine money will be only a fraction of the agency's $300,000 yearly budget, but every bit helps.

Moreover, Juriga believes the stiffer fine gets the message across that parking in handicap spaces isn't worth it.

In fact, Tri-County is working with state law makers to increase the disincentive to park in handicap spaces by raising the state maximum fine to $300.

"There is no question that (the current law) is being abused by people who don't have the (handicap parking) permits and park in those spots because they figure they won't get the ticket," she said.

The handicap placard is for people who cannot walk more than 200 feet, including anyone using supplemental oxygen; someone with cardiovascular difficulties; as well as others with more obvious mobility problems.

The state law needs to be tighter as well as tougher, Juriga said.

Sometimes, able-bodied relatives use the parking placard issued to a family member when that disabled person is not in the car, or after the handicapped person has died.

Sometimes people with temporary disabilities continue to use the five-year placard after their condition has healed, Juriga said.

"Right now, there is nothing we can do for that," said Lt. Art Greer, commander of the Akron police traffic bureau. "If the car is placarded, you can park at a handicapped spot."

Juriga also is pushing for more controlled access to the placards.

She doesn't believe deaf and blind people -- who can get around -- should get them. She wants doctors to issue the placards through a prescription.

Now, the placards are issued through applications to the state that are supposed to be signed by a doctor, but officials have no way to verify the signatures, said Dave LaBate, supervisor of the parking violations bureau at Akron Municipal Court.

In the meantime, local law enforcement officers say the best they can do is to make sure that people who have no placards are ticketed and fined if they use those reserved spaces.

Akron's law covers all parking areas that are considered open to the public -- including those near restaurants, government buildings, theaters and stores.

Last year, fines amounted to $26,400.

LaBate said most of the 300 tickets issued -- not everyone has paid -- were written at malls where off-duty Akron police officers work security.

Many were written in bad weather.

"Weather gets cold, and people don't want to walk far," LaBate said.