If you're disabled, and you can't find a parking spot, it may not be because the number of crips in your area has increased. Instead, there is plenty of evidence that placard fraud, the illegal use of handicapped parking permits, is on a steep upward slope.
There are two forms of this kind of abuse. The first, and much more common form, involves obtaining a legitimate placard, when there is no disability. According to a recent article in the New York Times, in California, with roughly 25 million drivers, there are 2.5 million permits; this is triple the number from fifteen years ago. While most of those requests are legal and based on real health issues, it seems unlikely that the number of folks with sci or other conditions has actually ballooned to that extent. The website handicappedfraud.org carries the following story: "My Grandfather has a blue placard issued from his Doctor. My Grandfather suffers from Macular Degeneration, is 80% blind, has dementia, and is barely mobile with the use of a walker. While driving my Grandfather to the hospital, we approached the bank of handicapped parking spaces. Thankfully, I could see there was a single space left. As I approached, a snazzy red Corvette zipped into the handicapped parking space, and the woman rummaged in her glove box - pulling out a placard and hanging it on her rearview mirror. She jumped out of the car, doing a quick glance around and went quickly into the Hospital."
How is this possible? It turns out that it is fairly easy to get a placard, with medical necessity being only a small part of the determining factor. First of all, just about everyone in a clinic can sign the forms. I thought only doctors could perform this certification, but signatures from nurse practitioners and midwives are allowed, and even the John Hancock from a chiropractor has worked. There is also the problem that occurs when a practitioner signs on when the condition is only temporary. Someone has a turned ankle, for example, obtains disability status, and then uses that for five years, long after the injury has healed.
After that, we get into the area of illegal fraud. It turns out that there is a thriving market in false placards, like transit papers in Casablanca. In the last year in San Francisco, for example, with 55,000 placards extant, 2,000 folks were arrested for fraudulent use of one sort or another, including counterfeiting of the blue plastic devices we hang on our rear view mirrors. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, it seems that the state capitol is often awash in cars with disabled permits, with no protest by ADAPT in sight. When Donald Shoup, a UCLA parking maven asked a local cop his estimate of how many placards were false, the law enforcement officer handily replied, "All of them." In all fairness, the city has established a task force to crack down on this kind of abuse.
So what can the legitimate, and angry, disabled citizen do? The easiest solution is one I practice all the time. My car has a ramp, and needs extra space when it's extended so I can get my wheelchair out. If there's no blue zone available, I straddle two spaces so I can reserve room to get in and out. I try and park further back, where there's open areas (and so it's less likely that some fool tries to block me in), but if I have to lock up several spots, that's the price the mall pays for my business. And for not having enough accessible parking.
After that we can start getting rough. The website mentioned above has a process for reporting violators. I have bookmarked it, and plan to use it. California has lost so much revenue--people using placards instead of paying the meter--they just enacted a law with fines of up to $1,000 for repeat offenders of this kind of fraud. Personally, I would increase the penalty to permanent loss of one's driver's license. That might have an impact.
And then there's personal confrontation. Allen Rucker, in his brilliant book, The Best Seat in the House, tells the delicious story of someone who cut him off for a handicapped spot, despite the absence of any disability, then verbally attacked Rucker when he tried to explain the offense. The author called the authorities and enjoyed the sight of the idiot being cuffed and hauled off.
We can't all be that lucky, but it seems past time for society to deal with this issue. If nothing else, widespread publicity should make it clear to every American that this kind of practice is rotten to the core.