There have been many attempts to accommodate the disabled in America. Although, when described, these efforts seem helpful, often implementing the ideas into society results in unsatisfactory or harmful results for the disabled. Examining the participant groups in some of these cases provides valuable insight into why disability services often have mixed results when introduced to society.
One of the most common cases of unintended use of handicap accommodations is able-bodied people parking in disabled spaces. In some parts of the United States, it is estimated that a third of vehicles that display disabled placards are doing so fraudulently (Wood, 2017). For instance, in San Francisco, an audit in April 2017 revealed that “as many as 35,000 parking placards issued to Californians whom the Social Security Death Master File listed as deceased were still in use” (Murphy, 2017).
One participant group is the people who park in the spaces without valid handicap placards. Very few of them express their views publicly, because they often are berated by angry commenters. In a reddit post, user redeyeddeviant (2016) asked for ways to obtain “fake handicap parking tags” and that he needed them because he had terrible parking where he lived. In a forum post, user 4BangN (2011) complains about a dispute he had with an officer about parking in a handicap spot. He contends that he parked there because it was “closest to the door” and because it was before business hours. Many people justify parking in these spots because they find their current parking situation unfair or because they think no one is inconvenienced by their actions. People also use the handicap spots to avoid parking fees. Realizing this, many cities have removed “the incentive to park free for an unlimited amount of time” (Lazarus, 2014).
Most of the general public frowns upon what they see as improper use of the spaces. While posts that justify parking in the spaces are heavily downvoted, replies that question the poster’s morality or sanity are usually voted the highest. As for more organized groups, Handicappedfraud.com offers a report system for the public to shame individuals who park in the spaces without passes. Reports include date, place, fake placard number if applicable, license plate, and additional comments. There are about 5 reports per day made from all over the country.
The group most affected by the unintended use of the spaces are the people with valid placards. Whenever an able-bodied person parks in a space, they prevent a handicap individual from parking there. Writer Rachelle Friedman (2015) writes that the disabled community is “annoyed with people assuming that there is a slim chance someone will need the spot while they’re inside… or using a family members’ placard.” In a post submitted to The Might, Goodman-Helfand (2015) talks about an experience with able-bodied people denying her of the disabled parking space. The experience caused her a lot of emotional turmoil and left her wallowing in self-pity.
The governments at the state and city levels have made laws to accommodate the needs of disabled people. Disabled parking spaces were intended for the use of only disabled people with valid placards. The invalid use of placards is illegal and will result in fines anywhere from $100-$1000 (My Parking Sign, 2017). In three years, California has conducted 270 enforcement operations “and handed out over 2,000 citations” (Oreskes, 2017).
Tactile paving is a system of textured ground surface indicators found on footpaths, stairs and train station platforms to assist pedestrians who are visually impaired. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires pavements to have these tactile markings.
In the USA and other countries such as China, Japan, Germany, India among many others around the world. implementations of required tactile paving span a spectrum from annoying to downright dangerous. In some places, the textured tiles have been misused as decorative touches, defeating their critical purpose. In others, angled tile patterns force blind lanes to zig zag their way down a street, a frustration for users.
This kind of misuse or mis-implementation can lead to potential injuries or fatalities. This makes it difficult for blind users to be able to trust the systems intended to get them to their destination.
“Worst case example” paths lead into trees, holes, bars and even off bridge-side cliffs.
In one example, tactile pavements proved to be fatal. Workers removed the horizontal section of a bridge for maintenance but left the stairs unblocked. A blind person took his normal route up the stairs — but when he reached the top he fell five metres to the ground, sustaining head injuries. He later died in hospital.
There are several unorganized groups that participate in this issue. One group is the construction workers who, due to lack of communication from the administration on the tiles’ purpose, implement the paving incorrectly. They are mostly unaware of the meaning and use of the tiles, so they do not realize the consequences their actions can have.
People who obstruct the pavements are another unorganized participant group. Many are not aware of the purpose of the tiles and do not think obstructing the pavements could be an issue. Other people do not care about the use of the tiles, even if they are aware of it. Vendors might set up shop on the tiles or people might park their car on the pavements, rendering the tiles useless or dangerous for disabled people using them.
The government administration is responsible for enforcing correct implementation of the pavements and for educating people about the purpose of the tiles.
The main participant group that can be both organized and unorganized is the disabled people who use the walkways. Many people complain about tactile paving issues, trying to raise awareness and bring attention to this problem.
Disability Rights Activists are an organized group who try to ensure correct implementation of the pavements and draw attention to the ways disabled people are could be hurt. Blogs, news articles, and letters are some of the ways activists try to communicate their ideas on how to fix this problem.
Some participants believe a lack of education on the purpose of tactile pavements is the major cause behind their misuse and poor implementation. Other participants do not see the need for the pavements or do not care about their purpose, believing it is just a part of the pavement they are entitled to use.
The diversification of service dogs and the emergence of emotional support animals (ESAs) and therapy dogs have created controversy over the access rights of animal companions. Emotional support dogs do not require training. Instead of performing tasks for a disabled individual, they provide comfort for the anxious and depressed (Marx, 2014). Therapy dogs provide encouragement by visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and other public locations (Stace 2016). The three types of assistance animals have different access privileges under U.S. law, leading to confusion about animal owners' rights. Participants in this debate influence which accommodations of the disabled are approved and which are not.
Several groups have emerged from the service animal debate, each seeking to influence the definition of service dogs. The disabled who rely on service dogs form one participant group. Fake service animals are sometimes disruptive, increasing suspicion toward the trained dogs (Stewart 2016). One father of a disabled individual has noted this shift in the public's perception of service dogs. The father, Kurt Feldmann, stated: "People are a little more suspicious of service dogs. We go to a lot of different places and we see people with dogs with vests and they are really pretty fraudulent service dogs" (Stewart, 2016). As a result, many disabled want to stop the use of what they consider fraudulent service animals (Pheiffer 2017).
Some companies sell service dog identification cards, even though the United States has no official service dog registry (Pheiffer 2017). A sales description for one of these cards states: "you love your pet and you want it everywhere with you; restaurants ... grocery stores and even airplanes. Well, this is the way to do it! Grab your service dog ID, and have doors opened for your dog!" (Xpress ID 2017). These businesses seek profit from fake service dogs. Many businesses are unsure which animals are service dogs and would benefit from an official identification for service dogs. Merly Bowers, general manager of a Florida restaurant, complains about the bad behavior of some dogs whose owner declared they were service dogs: "We aren't sure if they are real and we don't know how to tell" (Munoz, 2016). These stakeholders want a clear way to identify service dogs, allowing them to bar access to other types of assistance animals.
Many flight attendants want to limit the ESAs brought onto airplanes. The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to allow many species of emotional support animals to fly for free (Air Carrier Access Act 2016). Although well trained service dogs are usually accepted, these participants protest the presence of many of the ESAs on airplanes. An anonymous flight attendant stated that emotional support animals "are not trained to hold their bodily functions for hours at a time, so you have 'accidents' on the plane carpet" (Anonymous B). This participant group would benefit from stricter rules defining ESAs.
Some participants, tired of the high cost of flying with a pet, state that it is an emotional support animal, allowing it to fly for free. One pet owner stated "my official ESA certificate is fake ... It may be wrong, but I'm saving thousands on airfare" (Anonymous A). These individuals benefit from the ease of obtaining paperwork for an ESA. Others want to be able to bring their dog with them everywhere. One pet owner, David Brett, stated: "I was sick of tying up my dog outside" (Palmeri 2013). The absence of an official service dog registry is beneficial to these participants, allowing them to obtain service dog access privileges for their pets. One participant who pretends her pet is a service dog justified her actions, stating "People are selling drugs, evading taxes, and I'm simply trying to take my dog to get a cup of coffee" (Anonymous C). This group enjoys the lack of official documentation for service dogs.
These case studies provide insight into why able-bodied individuals frequently use, or incorrectly implement, disability services. In the tactile paving study, the use of the paving as a decoration demonstrates the public confusion toward the purpose of the pavements. Confusion regarding disability services also features in the service dogs study. Due to the different types of support animals, many individuals are unsure what access rights their animal has. In both the service dog study and the handicap parking study, many non-disabled participants regard their use of disabled services as harmless. Often, an individual thinks that his or her action cannot have a noticeable effect. For instance, a national park visitor who takes a flower from the park may think, ‘It’s just one flower, what harm can it do?’ But if thousands of individuals do the same thing, they might destroy the flower in the park. This ‘lack of harm’ mentality may explain the non-disabled use of handicap parking and service dogs. Future study could examine this mentality in more depth.