Disabled Students Struggle to Find Convenient ADA Parking

Graduate student Elizabeth Pidgeon struggles to climb a set of stairs with her walker Oct. 1 on campus. Pidgeon says getting around campus is a daily struggle.

Despite living less than a mile from campus, one graduate student leaves home an hour and a half before her first class each day just to provide enough time to find a parking spot.

Elizabeth Pidgeon, a first-year graduate student, has been diagnosed with multiple conditions that limit her mobility, including a connective tissue disorder, idiopathic intracranial hypertension (a buildup of fluid around her brain) and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that affects blood circulation, Pidgeon said. She can not walk or exert herself for extended periods of time, gets dizzy and overheated easily and has to use a walker.

Pidgeon said that finding Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) parking in central locations on campus is a challenge.  Despite leaving for campus early, she usually spends an hour or more circling through Lot 71, Lot 4 and the Graduate Education Building lot trying to find an open ADA space. When she can not find a spot, she usually must park on Arkansas Ave, which forces her to walk up stairs, she said.

“The only way to get up onto the green from there is up stairs, unless I were to walk way around,” Pidgeon said. “It is absolutely exhausting and painful, and adds to the time it takes to get to class.”

Difficulty finding available ADA parking caused Pidgeon to be late to her first class of the fall semester, she said.

“I already knew I had to get to campus early, but I still had a very difficult time finding a parking spot,” Pidgeon said. “Not only that, but because of the location of Gearhart, I still have to walk a considerable distance from all the lots.”

Graduate student Andrew Shaw said he had a frustrating experience with ADA parking on campus when he was temporarily disabled.

After breaking his ankle in April of 2018, Shaw obtained a state-issued ADA placard and a temporary ADA sticker from Transit and Parking, Shaw said. His permit allowed him to park in any disabled spot on campus. Because he could not walk during the first five weeks of his recovery and walked with difficulty after that, he needed to park very close to his office in John White Jr. Engineering Hall.

While doing research in summer 2018, Shaw said he regularly parked in the ADA spaces in Lot 71, across the street from John White Jr. Engineering Hall. 

Shaw said that one day, when all the ADA spots in Lot 71 were full, he called Transit and Parking  to ask if he could park in one of the lot’s non-ADA spots so that he could still be a short enough distance from his destination.

“They said,’Yes, as long as the hang tag is visible. It’s not a problem, and if someone gives you a ticket just come to us and we’ll take care of it.’ That was a lie,” Shaw said

Shaw said that on June 21, 2018, he returned to Lot 71 to find that he had received a ticket for parking in a non-ADA spot, even though his hang tag was hung in the windshield.  After T&P denied his two written appeals, Shaw filed for an in-person hearing with the UofA traffic appeals court and was granted one in September 2018, he said. Court members granted his appeal and he received a refund for the $50 ticket and additional fees.

David Wilson, communications director for Transit and Parking, said he could not speak to the specifics of individual cases, but wanted to emphasize that all students must only park in the spots allowed by their permits.

“In this case, I’m not saying the person misunderstood, because he might not have misunderstood anything if someone told him he could park somewhere else in the lot. But that’s only true if your permit allows it,” Wilson said.

Pidgeon said when she reached out to Transit and Parking about the lack of centrally located ADA spots, she was told to either take the Razorback transit buses, or reach out to paratransit, a transportation service for disabled students provided by the Center for Educational Access.

Those options are not viable for Pidgeon, she said. 

“There are plenty of ADA spots in remote lots, like Lot 56,” Pidgeon said. ”But then I have to deal with the bus, standing outside and the heat, and my body physically can’t tolerate all of that.”

As for paratransit, Pidgeon said that it is not a reasonable option because users must give the service advance notice of their pickup and drop-off times for each day. It can be hard for a graduate student to know when they will be done with work on a given night.

“It’s kind of limiting, when I don’t know how long I'm going to be on campus every day to have that strict schedule,” Pidgeon said. “Or say I get a really bad headache and need to go home in the middle of the day, I’m stranded on campus without a vehicle.”

Pidgeon said she does not think the UofA is meeting its full responsibility of upholding the ADA.  She wants Transit and Parking to use the number of disabled permits issued each year to determine how many ADA spots should be built on central campus, rather than how many should exist on campus in general.

Wilson said there are 334 ADA parking spots on campus and the number of spots available is reevaluated and adjusted every summer.

“There’s not a set number of ADA spaces that need to be in any particular area because that can fluctuate based on the needs of employees and students,” Wilson said. “We have regular meetings of those who report directly to the head of the department, and we have discussions about needs in different areas.”

If disabled students cannot take alternative transportation and must drive to campus, they should arrive on campus as early as possible to allow ample time to find parking, Wilson said.

“If you know you have to be on campus at eight,” Wilson said,”I would be there at seven if you think parking is going to be a problem. Not everyone wants to hear that, and I understand that it’s not possible for everyone to come in early, but it is the easiest solution.”

According to the official university parking map, there are 71 ADA spaces in lots located in the section of campus where most class buildings are (north of Fairview St., south of Maple St., east of Garland Ave, and west of Arkansas Ave.).

During the 2018-2019 school year Transit and Parking officials issued 274 ADA permits and 39 temporary permits, Wilson said.

Shaw said he thinks his ordeal was primarily caused by the UofA’s small number of centrally located ADA parking spots. He said it frustrates him that permanently disabled students must face the issue he did on a regular basis.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me that there would be that little handicapped parking, especially on that side of the campus, when everyone that needs to be parking there in the summer is doing research or is a grad student,” Shaw said. “If they don’t have parking, you’re just punishing them.”

Shaw said that he wants university officials to build more centrally-located lots with additional ADA spaces.

“They need to stop getting rid of lots, and if they are, they need to replace it somewhere else,” he said. “It’s not just affecting the student population; it’s affecting people who are actually disabled or temporarily disabled like myself.”

Sarah Komar is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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