Disabled Parking

Designing Facilities Still a Tad Clunky

February, 2017

Helen Dolphin

Twenty years ago, the technology that enabled me to get back behind the wheel was pretty clunky, but with the introduction of Bluetooth wireless technology, my adaptations are considerably more sophisticated. Improvements have also enabled people with extremely limited strength and dexterity to drive, and the number of disabled people driving highly adapted vehicles is on the increase.

With more disabled people driving, it is important that they can park once they reach their destination. I know from experience the dread of not being able to find somewhere suitable to park, and this is one of the reasons why I set up People’s Parking (www.peoplesparking.org) in the UK, as this helps disabled drivers find a carpark that meets their needs.

To qualify for its accreditation “Good for disabled people,” carparks here in the UK need to demonstrate that as well as having disabled bays marked out properly, disabled people also can enter the carpark if they are unable to take a ticket and can pay if this is required.

Many parking operators have embraced the challenge of ensuring that disabled people can park with ease in their carparks, but have sometimes had to be quite inventive due to the limitations of their current parking machinery. It would, therefore, be fantastic if manufacturers could also consider how they could improve their designs to make the machines easier for disabled people to use.

My experience of trying to enter multi-story carparks is that, in most cases, I have to take a ticket — which for me is virtually impossible. Instead, I must try to press the button on the machine to summon help, but this button is generally recessed. This means I have to get a pen out of my bag to try to press the button. If this button were made a lot bigger and protruded, it would be so much easier to use, as people with poor dexterity or aim could just use a fist. An even better solution would be a button that you could just wave at to activate.

My next hurdle in a carpark comes when I leave and have to find a way to pay. Many operators have installed pay-by-phone and pay online, which makes the process considerably easier. But quite a few carparks still take only coins, and this means I have to ask someone else to help. However, with the introduction of contactless payment, paying is definitely getting easier as the need to use small, fiddly buttons is all but gone.

But it is now 2017, and taking tickets on entry and pay-on-foot still seem like quite old technology, and I am sure it won’t be long before everything is done by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR). If I could drive into a carpark without having to do anything and be sent the bill afterwards for the time taken, this would make parking so much easier.

However, it’s not just multi-story carparks that can present a challenge to disabled drivers. Many surface carparks are pay-and-display, and it is not uncommon to find the P&D machine at the top of a few steps or surrounded by an island. My solution in these situations is to leave a hand-written note on my dashboard explaining why I can’t purchase a ticket.

However, even if the machine is sited in the perfect position, buying a P&D ticket is still very difficult and one many disabled people struggle with. It is hard to think of many improvements that could be made by manufacturers to make this task easier for disabled people. However, I am finding more often that pay-by-phone is being offered, which does take away the problem of not being able to use the machine and is considerably more convenient.

As parking in a carpark can be a challenge I try when I can to park on the street. In the UK, there is the “blue badge” program that provides disabled drivers with various on-street parking concessions. This means that in most places I can park without charge, although London is an exception.

This is a good program insofar as it takes away the difficulties of trying to pay at a parking meter, which would be impossible for me. However, when I last parked in London, I was faced with such a challenge — but was delighted to see that, again, pay-by-phone was provided as an option.

It does seem as if in many situations, pay-by-phone and pay online have significantly helped make paying for parking easier for disabled people. However, there is still more that can be done by manufacturers to help make their payment machines easier for everyone to use.