My View: City parking fee plan would hurt the wrong people

The Portland Commission on Disability wishes to issue the following statement in response to the July 11 article published in the Tribune (Defrauding disabled parking). Because our commission was specifically called out in this piece, we feel it necessary to clarify the position we have taken in the past on this issue, as well as respond to some of the assertions made in the article.

First, it is important to understand that the Commission on Disability, as a part of the Office of Equity and Human Rights, exists to advise the City Council and city bureaus on all matters pertaining to equity and access for people with disabilities.

Likewise, it should also be understood that, since we represent all people with disabilities, we advocate for policy changes that we are confident will positively impact people with disabilities, and we rarely endorse policy that we feel has the potential to negatively impact the disability community or any subset of Portlanders with disabilities.

In this article, Tribune reporter Peter Korn states: “The commission has rejected previous proposals aimed at reducing fraudulent use of disability placards.” That is an overly simplistic, and thus misleading, statement.

Members of our commission have been among the disability community advocates serving on the city’s Disabled Parking Task Force that has been looking at this issue since early 2008. Through our members’ participation on the task force, we have actually advocated for numerous measures to address the fraudulent use of the placard.

While it is indeed true that our commission did not support the task force policy recommendation that was presented to us in May 2011, it would be more accurate to say that we could not support it, rather than that we rejected it.

We believe that there is a difference. We fully realize that the placard is subject to abuse, and we acknowledge both the city’s concern for the parking resource and the business community’s interest in turnover, but a majority of our membership was not comfortable with a proposal that they felt could be problematic for many people with disabilities.

This article asserts that the “simple” solution to the placard exploitation problem is to require standard placard holders to pay for parking and doing so may very well free up spaces, bring in revenue and promote the turnover that the business community desires.

But simple solutions are rarely without unintended consequences. The business community and the city may get what they want with this solution, but people with disabilities, including older adults, will undoubtedly be the ones to bear the burden of any unintended consequences of this remedy.

Finally, we feel compelled to comment on the overall tone of this article. The author does an excellent job of selling both the problem and his proposed solution.

However, in his zeal to make his point, he also does an excellent job of reinforcing negative stereotypes and traditional prejudices that plague people with disabilities on a daily basis. From the first paragraph on, the article demonizes people with disabilities as scam artists, freeloaders and burdens on society.

Those are all classic prejudicial stereotypes that should never be reinforced like this in the media. We hope that the Tribune will be more careful going forward.

Joe VanderVeer is the chairman of the Portland Commission on Disability.

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