Technology Takes Parking For Disabled Into 21st Century
Here in the UK, my first car after becoming disabled had quite a lot of adaptations: Both the key ignition and hand-brake lever were replaced with push buttons; my driving seat was motorized so I could move my seat forward. I had Bluetooth controls built into my headrest to activate my headlights and windshield wipers; a camera so I could see behind when I reversed; an automatic trunk opener so I could open it on my own; and major changes to the acceleration, braking and steering systems.
Fast-forward nearly 20 years, and many of these adaptations now come as standard. My latest car has built-in sensors to activate the headlights and windshield wipers; it starts with a push button. The parking sensors are just part of the in-car controls, and the trunk opens and closes at the touch of a button.
Adaptations I once had to have specifically installed to make driving possible are now included as standard or add-ons in most new cars. I don’t know if these ideas came from vehicle adaptations for disabled drivers, but it’s clear to see that a push button start is far easier than a key, and reversing with sensors is a much better way to avoid bumps and scrapes when parking.
When I’m talking to parking operators about making their carparks easier for disabled people to use, I’ll often use this car design analogy. This is because if you make changes to either cars or parking equipment so that disabled people can use it, the consequence is usually that you have made life a lot easier for everyone else, too.
Take, for example, parking facilities where you can pay only by coin. For me, this would mean that paying was completely impossible, but there would be many other non-disabled motorists who also find coin payment difficult – those without the correct change, for example.
With changes such as the introduction of pay-by-phone, parking operators are not only making paying accessible for most disabled people, but also making life considerably easier for everyone else.
This is also true of carparks that require you to take a ticket on entry and put it back into the slot on your way out. This is another task that requires considerable dexterity, which I do not possess. But it’s not just disabled motorists who struggle with this. I’ve often been behind other drivers who have dropped their ticket or have parked in such as a way as they cannot reach the machine.
Although pay-on-foot is popular in UK carparks, it is being improved by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), where drivers can register their details so the barrier will lift automatically on entry and exit. Gone is the struggle of trying to take a ticket and infuriating other drivers in the process. ANPR also enables motorists to pre-book and pay online, which again are technologies that make parking easier not only for disabled people, but also all other motorists.
Last month, I wrote about concessions for disabled people to park and whether they should be provided. A number of operators have told me that one of the reasons they are not able to give concessions is because it is not possible with their current parking machinery. However, Cambridge City Council has installed machines with a built-in scanner that, when a “disabled badge” is scanned, the motorist is given three hours parking free of charge.
There is, therefore, scope in the future for more operators to use this type of system should they decide to give disabled placard holders a concession.
When I think back my early days of driving and parking, I can remember only two payment options, either pay-and-display or Pay-on-foot. But just as the technology has changed to enable me to drive a car with far fewer adaptations, parking technology has also changed so there are more entry and payment options available.
This means I can park a lot more independently. There are, of course, still carparks where the only payment option is cash. But I hope that as machinery is replaced in the future, more sophisticated entry and payment options will be installed, making life easier for both disabled and non-disabled people alike.