Why New Jersey may need more handicapped parking
Since losing the bottom half of his left leg to a bone infection in early 2017, Mercer County resident Jonathan Elliott has attempted to make the best of an unfortunate situation.
But his motivation — and sense of dignity — have taken a hit several times over the past 15 months, just while trying to complete routine errands.
Handicapped-accessible parking spots, he said, are often lacking.
Most times he'll just turn around and go home or circle the lot until he finally finds an empty spot outlined in blue.
Needing to make a quick stop at the mall recently, with no accessible parking to be found, Elliott bit the bullet and pulled into a spot hundreds of feet from the entrance, and made the trek with a cane and prosthetic leg.
"I had to go home and take a nap because I went out and bought a plug for my computer," the 36-year-old said.
As a member of four support groups, Elliott says limited parking is a frustration he hears about from the disabled community on a daily basis.
"People don't see it and people don't get it unless they've gone through it," Elliott said.
Following federal guidelines, lots and garages in New Jersey are required to provide one handicapped space for every 25 total spaces, up to 100.
Beyond 100 total spaces, the ratio decreases in favor of non-accessible spots. For example, a lot of 300 spaces would be required to include seven handicapped spots. Sixteen handicapped spots would be required in a lot that can handle 800 vehicles.
According to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, about 55,000 individuals own a disability license plate in the state. As of January 2018, 412,738 disability placards were in circulation.
In August 2013, New Jersey started requiring medical recertification every three years in order for residents to renew a disability placard or wheelchair-symbol license plate.
Joe Young, executive director of Disability Rights New Jersey, said the introduction of expiring placards and plates has helped reduce the number of people "abusing" the handicapped-parking system.
But as an increasing number of baby boomers age into their golden years, Young said, the demand for specially-marked spots rises as well.
"People are probably going to be driving for longer than they have in the past," Young added. "They're going to want to be mobile and will get notes from doctors indicating that they have a limited ability to walk and need a more accessible spot."
More than 15 percent of New Jersey's population is made up of individuals aged 65 and older, compared to 13.5 percent in 2010, according to Census data. Nearly 7 percent of New Jersey residents under the age of 65 are living with a disability.
Young said the overall availability of handicapped-accessible spots is an issue that needs to be examined, but special attention should be paid to emergency and walk-in clinics, as well as downtown areas.
"I think there needs to be some planning for certain places where there's going to be a greater demand," he said.