Contributed by Anthea Skinner
If you have limited mobility as a result of a disability or impairment, a Disability Parking Permit can allow you to use accessible parking spaces. Accessible parking is designed to make it easier for people with disabilities to visit schools, hospitals, shopping centres and other everyday services and activities. In Australia, it is a legal requirement for councils and businesses to supply accessible parking, however, finding an empty accessible parking space can be difficult and demand often seems to outstrip supply. This article explains all the features of accessible parking so that you can get full use from your Disability Parking Permit.
Accessible Parking – Where is It?
When you arrive in a new carparking facility, the first thing you’ll need to do is find the accessible parking bays. Generally speaking, accessible parking should be placed close to the accessible entrance of a building. This allows people with limited mobility to access the premises without expending too much energy. If you are in an underground or multi-story parking facility, accessible parking will usually be close to the elevators. If you’re in a hilly area, look for the nearest flat ground to an entrance, accessible parking spaces should always be situated on level ground, with less than 1:40 gradient, and should have an equally level adjacent space to allow you to easily enter and exit your vehicle.
Accessible parking spaces are clearly recognisable and are labelled with a white international access symbol painted on a blue rectangle. This access symbol highlights the fact that parking spaces are reserved only for vehicles displaying valid Disability Parking Permits. If you park in an accessible space without a valid permit you will be fined.
How Big Should Accessible Parking Spaces Be?
Accessible parking spaces are larger than regular parking spots. There are a variety of reasons why people with disabilities can require extra space when parking. If you drive or travel in your car while still seated in your wheelchair, you’ll need extra room for ramps and lifting equipment to enter and exit your vehicle safely. You’ll also need extra space if you transfer between your wheelchair and the car, or if you use bulky mobility equipment like walking frames or crutches. Even if you don’t use large mobility aids, limited or unpredictable movement might mean that you need extra space to get in and out of the car. If you require help from a carer to access your vehicle or to use safety equipment like seat belts, extra space can also useful.
For all these reasons, the size and placement of accessible parking in Australia is regulated by law. This states that parallel accessible parking spaces should be 780cm long and 320cm wide, with an extra 160cm of space beside them to allow for loading and unloading. Angle parking spaces should be 540cm long and 240cm wide with a 240cm2 space behind for rear-loading vehicles. Angle spaces should also have a 540cm long by 240cm space next to them to allow easy access to side doors. You will notice that loading spaces next to accessible parking these spaces are often painted with diagonal stripes. These stripes show that the area needs to be kept clear to provide people with disabilities room for to safely enter and exit their vehicles. It is illegal to park in these striped areas, even if you have a Disability Parking Permit.
What About the Areas Around Accessible Parking Spaces?
There are also regulations covering the areas immediately surrounding accessible parking spaces. Both they, and their designated loading spaces should be placed on flat ground and any ramps accessing the space should have a gradient of no more than 1:10. These are important safety requirements designed to avoid falls on uneven or steep ground. Accessible parking should have an overhead clearance of at least 250cm, allowing room for vans and roof mounted wheelchair storage and reducing overhead hazards for people with vision impairment. Line makings in and around the parking space should be painted with a non-slip surface.
While the regulations listed above are legal requirements, there are other things that can help to make parking truly accessible for all. All line markings should be clearly visible, and repainted when they start to fade. Any gardens immediately surrounding parking spaces should be kept well maintained as overhanging branches can be dangerous to people with vision impairments and overgrown grass or shrubs can be a tripping hazard. Fallen debris like litter and leaves can be slippery and should be removed regularly. Accessible parking spaces should also be kept clear of obstacles like rubbish bins and discarded trolleys. Any curbs adjacent to the spaces should have ramps to allow wheelchair users to access the footpath safely.
How Many Spaces Should There Be?
It can sometimes seem like there just isn’t enough parking to go around. However, there are minimum legal requirements for the numbers of accessible parking spaces that need to be provided. These requirements differ depending on the type of business or organisation that you are visiting, but are usually either one space in every 50 or 100 parking spaces. The minimum requirement for a range of businesses is outlined below:
The Accessible Parking in My Area Isn’t Up to Scratch… What Should I Do?
Even though accessible parking is required by law, sometimes it can be poorly maintained or out of date with current legal requirements. If you are concerned about the quality of accessible parking in your area you should first take the matter up with the management in charge of the parking lot. Explain the problem that you are having, and that it is making it difficult for you to access their premises. Most business owners understand that good accessibility ensures that more customers can use their services and will try to help. They may not realise that things like overgrown trees or faded line markings can limit people’s access and will often be eager to assist once it is politely pointed out to them. Make a note of the time and date of any correspondence, the name of who you speak to and be sure to save copies of any letters or emails. If this doesn’t resolve the matter then contact your local council with the details of your concerns and they will be able to advocate on your behalf.