LivAbility Magazine
shows a municipal building and parking lot with wheelchair-accessible stripes running through the center of the photo. Standing in the center of that photo, looking determined, is Senator John Kavanagh. He has silver hair, a solemn expression, and a dark gray suit.

Know the New Law

by Gillian Carr
Photos by Loren Worthington

When you only enter your car from one side due to a ramp, lift or other assistive device, you have to rely on the common courtesy of strangers to not box you into your parking space by parking in the access aisle. You will find that “common courtesy” is not always so common.

A tow truck takes forever and hunting for the offender is sometimes impractical, given that you have places to be. You have a plane to catch, a child at school, a bed to welcome you home. You simply do not have the time to spend on some person who parked in the access aisle.

For many years, this brand of carelessness was not illegal in Arizona. While it had been illegal for anyone without valid placards to use accessible parking, it was not illegal for anyone—cars, motorcycles, and shopping carts alike—to park in the access aisle in most Arizona cities.

“It was a ridiculous mistake in crafting the original law,” said State Senator John Kavanagh, who introduced SB 1239 earlier this year.

With its passing in March and recent enactment, Kavanagh hoped to close the unintended loophole in the original legislation by prohibiting anyone—with or without a placard—from parking in these designated, yellow crosshatched spaces.

However, a passed law is not necessarily an enforced law. Walter Olsen, a retired Phoenix Police detective of thirty years and major influencer of SB 1239, said that while the law is necessary, it probably won’t be enforced. Given that parking violations are a low priority and violators are often gone before an officer can respond to a complaint, it is unlikely a majority of violators will be caught and fined. Who enforces the law, the fine, and whether or not citizen reporting methods are available vary city-to-city, making enforcement throughout Arizona inconsistent.

In order for the law to be more effective, Olsen believes the public must be educated on accessibility, creating an environment of voluntary compliance with effective laws that discourage noncompliant activities. These laws must be enforced by police officers, who understand and are willing to enforce them and courts that hold people accountable.

“The disability community is an important community [that is] underserved significantly by the police,” Olsen said.

Many cities do not have programs that specifically target accessible parking violations, let alone spend a tremendous amount of resources on addressing them. Even cities like Phoenix with such programs have had dwindling interest in their volunteer-based programs. Accessibility Compliance Enforcement (ACE), a volunteer program that tickets accessible parking violations, has reduced in number since its creation. Save Our Space, a hotline that allows any citizen to report an accessible parking violation and mails educational literature to the registered owner of the vehicle, has received fewer calls than it has in previous years.

With the addition of SB 1239 in many Arizona cities, now is an opportune time to contact your city to see how they plan on implementing this new state law, to volunteer your services, and to find new ways to educate the public about accessibility.

Gina Schuh smiles at the camera. She is a wheelchair user sitting in a manual wheelchair, wearing a gold sweater, blue jeans, and pink shoes.

Ever wonder where laws begin?

They often start with people like Gina Schuh, who turned a problem into a solution. On a police ride-along with then-Detective Walter Olsen, Schuh was pleased to see enforcement of accessibility laws, but shared her frustrations about people parking in access aisles, a problem she encounters often. Schuh turned those frustrations into political action by helping to pass a City of Gilbert parking ordinance and then bringing her voice to bear on SB 1239. Senator Kavanagh credits Olsen with bringing the issue of SB 1239 to his attention. Olsen credits Schuh, the founder of Accessible Arizona and blogger at Gina on a Roll. As Olsen said, “[Schuh] has and will continue to make a difference.”

Read more about Gina Schuh in Edition 11 of LivAbility coming January 2018.

Portrait of Gillian Carr

Gillian Carr

Gillian Carr is a graduate from Arizona State University with a B.A. in English Literature. Her interests include medieval literature, storytelling, caffeine, and dogs. Her dislikes include talking about herself, high shelves, and being asked, “Where are your parents?” while getting a sample at Costco.