Are businesses better at allocating handicapped parking?

I’m a member of an online focus group for a retailer. (Can you guess which one?)

I log in a few times a week, take surveys and comment in threads with moderators and other consumers. It’s like Billikens.com, but without all of the trolls and unfriendly banter. It is a random hodge podge of people from around the country.

Sometimes people make strange comments, like “too much stuff in Walmart comes from China.” I try and convince those folks that trade is in their best interest, and other commenters also are on the side of open markets.

However, a post I saw today came from a handicapped woman complaining about the lack of parking for handicapped folks at her local store. She had to park far away, and the lot was sloped, so getting up the hill with a bunch of goods was difficult for her. I am empathetic, because the big retailers by my house (like Walmart) have sloped parking lots, and that can be difficult for an older and/or handicapped individual.

I am somewhat critical of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it can be overly rigid, defy common sense, and pose a greater burden in many cases than the benefits conferred. Especially with parking. I remember grumbling as I drove by a multitude of seldom used handicapped parking spots at SLU’s Laclede garage.

I think there are a fair amount of people who use handicapped parking tags that aren’t actually handicapped, and are gaming the system. Other folks use their relatives’ passes to be lazy. That is very disturbing to me, but I digress.

I do think that private businesses would offer handicapped parking spots absent the ADA. However, I don’t think there is any solution other than having the States issue handicapped passes that would work.

Here is the ADA’s minimum number of required spots:

As you can see, the minimums aren’t particularly onerous, but some places (like SLU) choose to earmark more than legally required. And, if you think “oh, that’s reasonable” just click this link to get an idea of how persnickety the regs are.

Either way, considering the size and space of large retailers, or large shopping areas, I can see how there might be a scarcity of handicapped parking spots. Who might do a more efficient job at fixing this? Retailers or government?

Here’s what I wrote on the comment board:

While I am normally somewhat critical of the ADA (colleges have a glut of handicap parking that is rarely utilized), I see your point here. Walmart is very popular with older folks and the handicapped — thus the demand for those parking spaces is higher.
Walmart should probably use venues like these to come up with a sound way to address increased demand for handicapped parking without inefficiently allocating more spots where there is not high demand.

I started poking around for data. States do not appear to share how many handicapped parking permits they issue, so that left me with OASDI Beneficiaries by State and ZIP Code, 2010, which is data from the Social Security Administration on Social Security claims, including disability filings.

I compared the field offices of Naples, Florida and Anacostia, District of Columbia. I also compared my home zip codes in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Huntington, Virginia, and University City, Missouri. I am a bit curious how Anacostia has nearly as many disabled workers as Naples, Florida with a population 4.5 times smaller. I have several theories (demographics, age, lifestyle choices, line of work, etc.) but it doesn’t matter. The data is the data.

Companies could probably easily combine this data with state available data on car usage, handicapped parking permits per capita/region, as well as handicapped public transportation usage along with camera footage analyzing handicapped parking usage*. (*=Though that won’t depict folks who could not find handicapped spots when full.)

All of this woven together would provide a fairly good data matrix to determine where more handicapped parking spots should be located.

The bottom line is that businesses have an incentive to serve these customers, independent of government mandates.  (Which is why they also offer parking for expectant mothers.) Also, they’re in a better place to know who their consumers are and how best to serve them. Government has a role in allocating handicapped parking, but it’s probably better if we just keep that role at providing the data that will help businesses — not having them pretend to know better than the businesses how many spaces to choose. 

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