Advocates urge Harrisburg to be more responsive about accessible parking, other issues impacting people with disabilities

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Advocates have been trying to get Harrisburg to change one of its ordinances to make parking more accessible for residents with disabilities.

They say their calls for change going unanswered has become a pattern with the city.

The nonprofit Disability Rights PA says it reached out to Harrisburg a year ago about this parking ordinance. It says the city was initially responsive, but eventually, all communication stopped.

“It’s making it more difficult for them to live in their own community,” said Pam Auer, the director of advocacy and community engagement at the Center for Independent Living of Central PA.

Auer is talking about the ordinance that only allows residents with disabilities to apply for disabled parking permits if they have special license plates, not placards.

Auer, who does has a plate for the car she drives, says not everyone has that luxury.

She also points out placards are more mobile.

“The majority of people that I’m aware of who use those use it because they have family members or friends they might travel with,” said Auer.

Users may be switching vehicles more regularly.

The Center for Independent Living of Central PA and Disability Rights PA agree allowing both placards and plates is the standard.

After all, the Americans with Disabilities Act calls for “reasonable modifications.”

PennDOT says there are more than eight times the number of placards versus plates issued in Dauphin County.

Plus, placards are free.

“People with disabilities are some of the lowest income in our country,” said Auer.

Auer says she’d love to work with the City, but insists this isn’t the first time people with disbailities’ needs have been pushed aside.

She tells us the center has been trying to work with the mayor and council on a variety of problems, like access to businesses and crosswalks, for years. She says some progress has been made, but not enough.

“I’m not surprised that it’s taken so long to get an answer on something like this,” said Auer.

The center proposed Harrisburg launch an advisory group so officials could hear from people with disabilties.

Auer says while there are similar councils for other issues, the administration has not taken them up on this one.

“The city has not been as responsive as we would like,” said Auer.

abc27News reached out to city officials, including the council, for an interview.

Harrisburg’s Law Bureau sent us a statement, saying:

“The City recognizes that the language in the ordinance and forms are outdated.  In practice, the City honors either a handicapped license plate or placard to approve disability parking applications.

Parking ordinances, including disability parking provisions, are in the process of revisions, and the City plans to have those updated by summer 2021.”

While abc27News has found some answers, advocates say they still haven’t heard back, and that the change should have been made as soon as it was brought to the city’s attention.

The center says it has not heard about this issue in other Midstate municipalities.

PennDOT data show placards are more common than plates for people with disabilities across the Commonwealth. As of December 2020, there were 921,992 active placards and 86,215 active plates.

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