My Disability Placard is Not a Perk

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I'm driving down Polk Street, looking for a parking spot. Block after block, I see parking meters with red lights flashing. Almost every car I pass has a blue disabled placard hanging from their mirror. When I finally pull into an open spot, I hang a placard of my own.

According to recent articles and studies, San Francisco has seen an astronomical rise in disability placards. Experts and civilians alike accuse these drivers of "gaming the system" by using a placard they don't actually need it, or by "borrowing" someone else's, in order to save a handful of quarters or the hassle of driving an extra few blocks to find an open spot. I don't disagree that some people are doing this, but there are plenty who aren't.

Nearly everything I read on this subject focuses on how much money the alleged placard abusers are costing the city, but few mention how much the current regulations actually help the disabled. The city allowing us to park in any spot for up to 72 straight hours means we don't have to worry about how long it can take us to get from place to place due to chronic pain or inaccessible routes. Not having to pay for parking meters means we don't have to spend limited energy going back and forth to load a meter, or worry about how much those quarters are going to eat into our budget for medical expenses.

Parking placards are not giving disabled people more rights. These regulations are not "perks"; they are equalizers that allow the disabled to park safely, avoid exacerbating painful joints and save energy that others take for granted. If the MTA decides to change these regulations based on placard misuse, I'm afraid of the impact it will have on my ability to live my life the way everyone else can.

SFPD should focus on cracking down on the abusers with random cross-checks of placards to driver's licenses, especially during big events and busy times. What they should not do is have the MTA penalize those of us who are just trying to go about our day in an already inaccessible world. It's about more than saving the city money - it's about the lives and rights of the people who live here.


With a Perspective, I'm Lia Seth.

Lia Seth is an event coordinator and data analyst by day and a blogger about her experiences with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome by night.