It’s the holiday season and the malls are crowded. Parking spots, especially those close to entrances, are at a premium – even more so for people with a handicapped.
So, Fairfax County officials are trying a new idea to keep those accessible spots free for those who really need them. They’re calling it “empathy parking.” Signs saying “Think of Me, Park Legally” are being placed under the standard ADA accessible parking signs.
It’s a project of the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging and the Fairfax Area Disability Services Board. According to Commission on Aging member Mike Perel the goal is to dissuade drivers from illegally parking in accessible parking spots by motivating them through empathy instead of the fear of a parking fine.
The idea seems to be working. After placing empathy signs in one shopping center, student observers from George Mason University found that empathy signs decreased outright violations (where someone parked in the spot without a handicapped placard or tag) and increased hesitations (where someone pulled in, presumably read the sign and backed out).
The idea began several years ago as a project of the Colorado Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities. Called “Excuses versus Reasons,” it included print ads as well as parking signs.
In Virginia you can park in a space for people with disabilities only if you have a placard or license plate issued by a government agency.
Parking in an accessible parking space or in the striped access aisles next to the space, even for a couple of minutes, is illegal and can result in fines up to $500.
The striped aisles next to the accessible parking spaces enable older adults and people with disabilities who use canes, walkers, scooters or wheelchairs to safely get in and out of their vehicles.
About 75,000 Fairfax County residents have a disability.