Inaccessible Parking Facilities
Under the UK’s Equality Act 2010, businesses and organizations have a responsibility to make sure that disabled people can access their goods and services as easily as non-disabled people. This is known as the ‘duty to make reasonable adjustments’. Within the parking sector, this duty is usually met by operators providing wider parking bays for disabled people with Disabled Placards, level access to the exit, and lower payment machines which can be reached by a wheelchair user. In the majority of large multi-level parking garages, this requirement to make reasonable adjustments has been met, and wheelchair users like me can park as easily as everyone else.
What is the best way to inform disabled people that the parking lot is not accessible?
However, for some garages it has proved impossible to make the adjustments needed to enable wheelchair users to park. This is often the case in multi-level parking garages that were built in the 1950s and 60s, where the infrastructure has made it impossible to adapt the garage.
For example, in an old garage with no ground floor parking where installation of a lift is impossible, the only way in and out of the garage for a wheelchair user would be using the ramps that the cars use. This is very dangerous as there is a risk of them being hit by a vehicle which did not expect them to be there. It is also dangerous as the vehicle ramps are usually very steep, and if the wheelchair user, or the person pushing them, lost control it could mean a very nasty accident.
In an ideal world, these inaccessible garages would be knocked down and replaced with brighter, shinier more accessible versions. However, until that happens, some parking operators will have inaccessible garages as part of their portfolios. The question then is what is the best way to inform disabled people that the parking lot is not accessible?
This was a question I was asked recently by an operator who was looking to design a new sign to put up at the entrance. However, I struggled to come up with a decent response because whatever signage is used, the message is effectively saying that the garage operator has not complied with their duty under the Equality Act.
Therefore, my first response to any operator asking this question is “have you done everything conceivably possible to try to make the garage accessible?” Of course, the Act only asks for adjustments to be made that are “reasonable” and it is unlikely that demolishing and rebuilding a garage would be deemed as such, but even so, it is a difficult message to convey.
Garages are not the only buildings that have this issue. Out of the 2,579 railway stations in Britain, around 980 are not step-free, meaning they are not accessible to wheelchair users. However, targets have been set by government to ensure step free access at all stations by 2030. It is easy for wheelchair users to find out if a station is inaccessible and where the closest accessible station is by going online.
Perhaps, garage operators should follow what the railway stations are doing by giving clear information on access and providing alternatives where access is poor. Eventually, inaccessible garages will be rebuilt to modern day specifications, meaning they should be accessible to everyone. However, the question still remains as to what sign to use in the meantime.
Various ideas came up, such as the international wheelchair symbol with a big cross through it or a red circle around the outside.
This would certainly convey the message that the car park was inaccessible, but as someone who couldn’t access the garage I’d want to know why and also where to find the nearest garage that I could park in.
Clearly, this amount of information would take up a lot more room than a sign could convey. Therefore, a link to a website with all the information is probably the best way to ensure all the information needed is available.
Arriving at a garage only to find it’s not accessible is pretty annoying, but it’s even more annoying if you’ve driven in, unloaded your wheelchair and then found you can’t get out. Therefore, until the time that all garages are accessible, or our cars are parking themselves, then a sign clearly stating a garage is inaccessible is the best solution available.
Helen Dolphin MBE LLB BSc, is an Independent Mobility Consultant in the UK. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.