By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Blowing the whistle on handicapped parking

Miss Media Nation and I visited Harvard Square yesterday. I dropped her off at a bookstore, then went look for a handicapped parking space. I found one not far from Brattle Square.

As I was backing in, it occurred to me that I might be causing myself some hassle. Our handicapped placard obviously wasn’t for me. My daughter was a couple of blocks away. If a police officer questioned me, I’d have to ask him to walk back to the bookstore with me so he could see that my daughter was, in fact, there.

I did it anyway — no problems. But it would have been a whole lot easier if I were one of the chosen few who use the handicapped parking spaces in front of Boston police headquarters, wouldn’t it? Another great job by students in Walter Robinson’s investigative-reporting class at Northeastern University.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


Four months later, InstaPundit checks in


The cooling of George Will’s brain


  1. Esther

    Wow, great story! It’s always so interesting when people who are supposed to uphold the law get caught breaking it. Btw, I’ve dropped my father off plenty of times and then looked for a handicapped space. I’ve never been hassled. But then, it’s not usually high-traffic places like Harvard Square!

  2. eeka

    The statues around the placard actually state that it can be used when going to pick up/drop off the person to whom it is assigned. The person with a disability only needs to be coming OR going, not both. It’s only placard abuse when the PWD isn’t involved in either end of entering or exiting the accessible spot. But yeah, do most police officers know this? Probably not. Do you still have the guidelines sheet that came with the placard? It can be handy to carry in your glovebox for such an occasion. You could also google and print out a copy of the statute.BTW, I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by saying that “obviously” the placard isn’t meant for you, but please remember that a lot of placards are issued for disabilities other than visible mobility disabilities. Typical-appearing-people can have them for heart or lung or back issues that impair stamina, or for panic disorders where someone needs to park right in front, or for a family member with developmental disabilities who can be challenging to get from car to door without a hassle.Disturbingly, I know of a LOT of people with placards who’ve had cops (or civilian busybodies) come up to them and say something really inappropriate like “I don’t see anyone in a wheelchair” and insist that their placard is fake. *headdesk* So I think it’s important to increase people’s awareness of who can be issued a placard and when it can be used.

  3. eeka

    Um, statutes. Though “statues” is funnier. :o)

  4. Becker

    @eekaI know exactly what you mean about those busybodies who come up and make snide comments. It happens to me from time to time because I am young, fairly strong and don’t look like I need a handicap hang tag, but my artificial leg — hidden beneath my pants — makes walking long distances painful. I did get some small measure of satisfaction from one of those busybody situations, though. An older woman and her husband were walking up the parking row, approaching from the passenger side of my vehicle. She sees me get out, notes my youth, and says — loud enough for me to hear, of course — something about “why do you get to park there?” and then, as she rounded my car and got a full look at me, she stopped in mid-sentence.I was wearing shorts. She was very quiet as I followed them into the store.

  5. rozzie02131

    This is exactly the kind of story that newspapers shouldn’t be giving away on their websites. It’s not hard news. You won’t be able to read about it anywhere else. But it’s a fascinating story that might compel you to buy the newspaper – or at least pay a few cents to read the details online.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Rozzie: Given that the Globe got this story for free, it’s perhaps not the best example of something for which it should have charged.

  7. mike_b1

    Did the reporters check the dates on the tickets on the windshields? Bet they were faked. There’s an age-old trick of putting an old ticket on your windshield when illegally parked or at a meter to ward off traffic police from writing a “real” one.

  8. mike_b1

    It also looks like the windshield is cracked, another violation.

  9. O-FISH-L

    Handicapped parking violations are never acceptable but I’m more intrigued that a public building for 600 employees could be constructed in this day and age with only 104 parking spaces. Especially when many in the building have two cars: their own personal vehicle and the police car assigned to them. I’m also reminded of Tom Paine’s “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” There was a time when the wheelchair symbol was actually permanently embossed onto the license plate of those few deemed deserving of the reserved parking space. Now that we are handing these things out like candy for people with every imaginable malady from panic attacks to sore backs, they have run out of space on the plates and switched to placards. Is it any wonder that the spaces are no longer esteemed the way they once were? Has the Globe ever investigated whether any doctor in this state has ever said “no” when asked by a patient to sign the form? Now that would be a story. The placard system is rife for abuse, too. Regulators once decided that the photo and name of the handicapped person be printed on the placard for verification purposes, but after a few complaints they began issuing opaque slides to hide the name and picture. Unbelievable! As for you Dan, no disrespect intended to you or Miss Media Nation, but if you had already dropped her off, presumably you could also pick her up at the same spot. So why on earth did you, an able bodied person, need to occupy a handicapped space? Didn’t your need for the space end once your daughter was safely out of the car? Never mind a police officer questioning you, I’d have been more worried about encountering a double amputee who might have needed the space and the accoutrements that often come with it, like more square footage and a ramp to the sidewalk.

  10. eeka

    O-FISH-L, he’s still within the regulations for appropriate use of the placard, provided he’s going to go shop together with his daughter and then they’re all going to get in the car together. The bearer of the placard only needs to be in the car upon entering OR exiting the spot. Not both.Also, consider the time and energy it would take if, rather than using a placard, a parent were to always drop their child off at the door, go and park, and walk back to meet the child (assuming that this is a child who even has the cognitive ability to wait alone). Now imagine that rather than being a child with a physical disability like Dan’s child has, this is a child with multiple disabilities who goes to various therapies and appointments all week. Do you see how much additional time this would take out of the life of this parent and child — who didn’t choose to have this lifestyle? This is why you can get a placard for, say, a child with autism who is able to walk just fine, but has tons of appointments each week that already unjustly make the child and family’s lives more complicated than that of a typical child. The purpose of accommodations is to make the lives of people with disabilities as much on par with typical people as possible.In the case of someone dropping off a person with a physical disability and then using the accessible parking spot, consider that the person with a physical disability may well have taken twice as long to get dressed and fed and out of the house in the morning as you did. The privilege of using these spots attempts to even out this sort of disparity — the person with a disability only has to wake up 30 minutes earlier than you do for your day of shopping, rather than 45 minutes earlier in order to also have to look for parking.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: The placard-versus-plate and the reasons for giving them out are two entirely different issues. The placard is a good idea, since the disabled person can take it from vehicle to vehicle. That has nothing to do with whether some people have them who shouldn’t.What in God’s name is wrong with the opaque sleeve? If a police officer questioned us, I would show him the picture, and we’d match it up with my daughter. No one else has a right to see her picture smiling out from our windshield.And for the record, she walked back to the car. Her condition is such that some walking is very good for her, but too much is bad for her back. Again — as if it’s anyone’s business but ours!

  12. O-FISH-L

    Eeka, thanks for enlightening me on the current theories behind handicapped parking. I’m shocked, to say the least, that these spaces are now thought of as society’s compensation for people with all kinds of disabilities, rather than convenient, close to the door spots helpful to folks with chronic mobility problems. Based on what you are telling us, professional athletes like J.D. Drew (sore back) and Manny Ramirez (attention deficit) would qualify for the reserved spots. Just my opinion, but I think this well intentioned program has run amok.Dan, why is it anyone’s business to see the airport employee’s nametag and picture, or the usher at Fenway Park, or the guy from the mailroom at the office building? Perhaps because society has determined that people authorized to enter restricted areas need to be identifiable. Same for handicapped spaces, almost always located on prime public or private real estate and proven to be abused regularly. How is the public to report, or the police to enforce, violations of the law when the picture is hidden and the occupant(s) of the car have entered a crowded place? The picture is especially crucial in light of the comments here labeling the good, vigilant citizens watching these spaces as “busybodies.” Human nature dictates that one’s presence in restricted space comes with both public scrutiny and a certain amount of forfeited anonymity, be it behind the lines at an airport, the dugout at Fenway or the parking space by the door at the mall. Again, just my opinion, but if someone chooses to go where others aren’t allowed, they should at least be identifiable.

  13. Ani

    My question goes to the paragraph in the article that begins, “As the 2007 police directive suggests, what the police department has is a chronic condition, perceived parking immunity, for which there may be no cure.” I can’t tell from its posting on the web whether I’m reading a news article, news analysis, opinion, a column of some sort. But I found that paragraph jolting, as if these reporters had suddenly changed the tenor of what they were doing, by characterizing the facts they found. Maybe someone can tell me how I’m supposed to react to such a paragraph.

  14. acf

    The article was terrific. It’s the kind of local interest issue often ignored by papers today. It’s a shame that the Globe fell back on an interested teacher (Robinson) who used the topic as a learning tool in investigative reporting, although if they do it on a regular basis, it could be a way to get these stories told.Re: handicapped parking signs. If you drive around some neighborhoods in Boston, there are blocks with large swaths of parking spaces taken up by the signs. Aside from being easier to obtain, I get the sense that once installed, the signs live on long after the individual they were for has moved away. This is particularly the case in neighborhoods with large turnovers in residency. Is there a program to review the signs for continued need and removing outdated ones? Speaking to the rivalry between the traffic bureau and the police, I think that’s all it is. They don’t dare ticket police. It has nothing to do with why should they bother when the police can police their own areas?

  15. mike_b1

    Fish wrote: “Dan, why is it anyone’s business to see the airport employee’s nametag and picture, or the usher at Fenway Park, or the guy from the mailroom at the office building? Perhaps because society has determined that people authorized to enter restricted areas need to be identifiable.” Really? Really?!? How long did you think to come up with that twisted, wholly irrelevant comparison? Not long, I hope.

  16. O-FISH-L

    mike_b1, it took me slightly longer than it took you to proclaim that every citizen of the country could get $2.5m from the stimulus package. Who’s irrelevant? Ha!

  17. LFNeilson

    Would you leave your kid on the sidewalk, unattended, while you circle the block looking for a place to park? I didn’t think so. Nobody would.Great job by Robbie’s students. So many side issues to explore, too. Good fodder for some follow-up.zzzzzz

  18. Dan Kennedy

    Larz: I should hasten to add that Miss Media Nation is 16 and capable of fending for herself. It’s not like a dumped an 8-year-old onto the sidewalk!

  19. LFNeilson

    Dan,I’m speaking in a wider context. What parent would leave their kid on the sidewalk — any kid — while they searched for a parking space? The issue here is that those with mobility issues need that extra consideration, and anyone, be it cops or idiots, who would freeload on handicapped parking is a flounder.Now that I’m wound up — handicapped spaces are always handicapped spaces, even when the markings are covered by snow or ice. Winter conditions make things even worse for handicapped people. Please consider this when parking, shoveling, etc.Handicapped spaces in supermarket parking lots are somehow perceived as cart corrals. Please put your cart in an actual cart corral or back in the store. Why don’t shoppers just leave the cart in a regular parking space? I actually saw a woman push a cart from three spaces away to leave it in an HP space. I didn’t notice the planet listed on her license plate.zzzzzzz

  20. eeka

    O-FISH-L, now it just seems that you’re wanting to make ableist comments. No, of course people can’t get disability placards for having a slightly injured back that keeps them from playing baseball as much as they’d prefer or for having attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. A person needs to demonstrate that their disability significantly limits mobility or stamina, or that their independence and ability to get out of the house and go places is significantly increased by knowing that there will be available parking. There are some conditions for which someone can get the placard fairly easily by presenting a letter from a credentialed clinician indicating that they meet the criteria. For others, such as people with panic disorders, they need to be evaluated by a clinician appointed by Disability Evaluation Services.They aren’t just handing placards out to any yahoo who wants one, and I’m pretty sure you’re aware of that. Yes, I’m sure there are people who abuse placards, but most don’t.And the analogy about personnel needing to be readily identifiable is just ridiculous. People who work for airports aren’t a group of people who are objectified and stigmatized on the basis of membership in a group. I’m pretty sure you also realize that.Life can be much prettier when you realize that most people aren’t actually out to scam anyone, and you give people the benefit of the doubt. Especially when the issue isn’t affecting you in the least.

  21. mike_b1

    Fish, an error that you yourself failed to catch. It’s nice to see you taking credit for someone else’s work, just like all Republicans apologists so.

  22. O-FISH-L

    eeka, during my police career, I savored few things more than issuing the then $100 fine for a handicapped parking violation. Prosecuting a woman outside Wal-Mart and seizing the handicapped placard issued to her mother, long deceased, is also one career memory that I cherish. For those people the spaces were originally intended for, I know they are a Godsend. My personal opinion though, is that they should be reserved for the truly mobility impaired. Unless someone has panic attacks triggered by being parked far from an entrance, tell me again how exactly parking them near the front door helps? This idea you put forth that the spaces are somehow society’s way of reconciling with those facing adversity is troubling too. That a paraplegic in a wheelchair van might be circling a parking lot waiting for a wide HP space to open, while the person with panic attacks is occupying one is troubling to me. In an age when amputees are competing in triathlons, the “any disability fits all” approach goes too far. If you think abuse of the system is rare, Google “doctor shopping” and you get over 23m hits. What family doctor, already signing a DEA prescription pad for a patient’s hard-to-diagnose sore back, is going to withhold that signature from an RMV form placed in front of him during the 15 minute office visit so common today? And if he won’t sign it, the next one will, rather than risk a lawsuit.Lastly, it’s patronizing to limit scrutiny of the issue because some with the placards may be part of a stigmatized group. I would think the truly deserving would want intensive scrutiny of the program. As for the issue not “affecting (me) in the least,” I disagree. This is a matter of public policy affecting all of us.

  23. Southie

    I haven’t read all the comments in full, but the glaring error I see is that your nice story about handicapped parking is a blatent forced segue to compliment Walter Robbinson and NE Journalism, or to put it another way, your employer!!!!Every time the NE J school lands on the front page of the Globe, you make like you saw a great story over your morning coffee and decided to blog about it…..

  24. Dan Kennedy

    Southie: I’m going to point to good news about Northeastern every chance I can get. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

  25. Southie

    Fair enough Dan, I just personally feel that a little disclosure is appropriate. Consider me chastised!!!

  26. Dan Kennedy

    Southie: If you are reading Media Nation via an RSS aggregator, then I suppose you have a right to feel that I haven’t sufficiently disclosed. But my bio appears in the right-hand rail on the actual website, which is why I don’t think any further disclosure is necessary.

  27. Peter Porcupine

    Fish – about the opaque sleeve – they were added when there were a couple of incidents of home invaders making a note of the name, address, and condition of placard users to find vulnerable victims less able to fight back.The old placards were placed face-down on the dashboard, and were entiely inaccessible to those writing tickets. the exposed p=lacards were too much info on display.The sleeve is a good compromise.

  28. eeka

    O-FISH-L, panic disorder with agoraphobia is usually characterized by someone having a panic attack when s/he goes somewhere (or, in many cases, even considers going somewhere) where there is a lot of uncertainty about how the trip is going to pan out. People have panic attacks when they can’t visualize the trip, for instance, knowing that they can use X route and hit minimal traffic, knowing where they’ll be able to park, knowing they’ll be able to be on time, etc. Most people who have panic disorder with agoraphobia stay in the house a lot instead of being able to do things like shopping and going to appointments independently. Many rely on supported housing programs despite having no limitations on their cognitive or safety skills. A lot of people have been able to do things like go to appointments and grocery shop once they’ve gotten a placard, because they can now visualize that they’ll be able to pull up into the front row. This is the definition of a reasonable accommodation; something that doesn’t cost a lot, doesn’t require a lot of time or effort on anyone else’s part, and lets the person with a disability be much more independent in routine daily tasks.Also, to further clarify where you seem to take issue with accommodations; consider many users of manual wheelchair who can transfer in and out of a typical car (i.e., no lift, they get their own chair out of the back, etc.). These individuals can get out of a car in the same sort of time window as an average ambulatory person. A healthy manual chair user can typically get from the car to the store *faster* than an ambulatory person. So why would a healthy manual chair user who doesn’t use a lift van have an accessible parking placard? A big part of it is because s/he is also going to need to ask for assistance getting things off of high shelves at the store and so forth, so the trip is going to take longer than most people’s will. Being able to park right out front helps save some time. Don’t think of it as “charity,” which most people with disabilities don’t want, but rather as an accommodation. If someone has a way that s/he can grocery shop in about the same time as other people, then s/he doesn’t need to work fewer hours or hire an aide to do grocery shopping.It’s a similar deal with placards for people who have a child with developmental disabilities but no mobility issues. It allows the family to be independent in hauling the child to several different therapies every afternoon and not having to circle the block looking for parking each time, given that their insanely full schedule is a result of the child’s disability. The definition of disability and reasonable accommodation aren’t that someone absolutely can’t perform a task; it revolves around the task being harder than it is for a typical person, and the accommodation making it more typical. Most of my clients with autism “can” be dragged across a parking lot into a store just like any child. But a typical child doesn’t cry and sit down and refuse to move during every trip to the store. This is a disability. The placard makes it so the family can go to the store and come right out just like most families, instead of not going to the store, or everything taking twice as long, or needing to spend even more public funds on hiring a one-on-one aide for the child.And sure, there’s abuse of placards, as you describe. It just isn’t that common. Harassment of people with disabilities by busybodies who don’t think they should have accommodations is much more common.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén