Better enforcement and more awareness might be driving down requests for handicap parking placards, according to disability advocates .
A newspaper review of state licensing data found 1.2 million handicap parking placards, about 11 percent of state’s population, were issued across Ohio in 2012. The number is a 2 percent increase over the previous year marking the smallest amount of growth within a five-year period. Last year, the number of handicap placards issued grew half as fast compared to 2009 and 2010.
Matthew Sauer, chairman of the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities, said it is not likely that fewer people are applying for the placards. He believes stricter enforcement from doctors, who must write a prescription before a placard is issued, and police are helping to slow down the number of disabled parking permits issued.
“Our population is aging,” said Sauer. “You’ll see more of the placards not less. … People are more aware that overuse creates more difficulties for those that need it.”
Sauer said he believes that the abuse of the placards for the disabled still exists, but now there’s less of it going on.
“I think the awareness has gotten to the point where there is a slowing of the trend,” he said.
In Southwest Ohio, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties experienced an increase, anywhere between 7 to 17 percent, over a five year period, according to data from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. While the number of handicap placards issued each year has continued to increase, growth in the number of placards issued slowed in 2012.
In Champaign and Clark counties, the increase in handicap placards issued slowed in 2011 and continued the following year. The number of placards issued in Champaign County increased by 6 percent in 2010, but the increase shrunk to 1 percent in 2011 and 2012. Disabled parking placards increased 3 percent in Clark County in 2010 compared to 2 percent increases reported in 2011 and 2012.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles lists seven conditions that would qualify an individual to get a handicap placard; the inability to walk less than 200 feet without stopping; inability to walk without assistance; lung disease; portable oxygen use; severe cardiac condition; walking impaired by an arthritic, neurological or orthopedic condition; or blind.
In Ohio, the penalty for using a disabled placard in a vehicle not being driven by or used to transport the person it was issued for ranges between $250 and $500 but is not considered a criminal offense, according to the BMV. A health care provider who issues a prescription for a handicap placard to a person who does not meet the criteria faces six months of imprisonment or a $1,000 fine.
Sue Hetrick, The Center for Disability Empowerment executive director, said law enforcement should have more spot checks to ensure the proper people are using the handicap placards, but acknowledged law enforcement may have more urgent situations to address. She noted the issue is a difficult situation to monitor. A person’s disabilities may not be visible, and people may not be inclined to report an individual’s abuse of the placard, she said.
“Most people are not going to call the police,” she said.
Captain Dave Pazynski who heads the Xenia Police administrative services division said sometimes abuse of the placards occurs, but patrol officers and parking enforcement personnel routinely check to make sure the parking spaces are being used by individuals who have a placard.
“We’re going to enforce it and we’re going to check it,” Pazynski said.
In addition to checks by law enforcement, Pazynski added other agencies need to use more scrutiny when determining who is issued a handicap placard.
“A lot of it has to do with the doctors issuing the right placards to the right people,” he said. “Do they really need the placard or not? …There are people who are not deemed handicapped who are using it.”