By Renee Smith, JD MBA

Canada’s cities have long struggled with how to make their streets (and sidewalks and neighborhoods) more accessible to people with disabilities. There are many barriers to handicap access, including curbs bordering sidewalks, paucity of parking spaces designated solely for use by people with disabilities, and inaccessible buses and other forms of public transportation for people who don’t want to drive into the heart of the city. Add to that snow drifts, which are a common presence on our streets and sidewalks, and it’s easy to understand why it can be so difficult for people with disabilities to often struggle in our cities. 

One area where cities sometimes fall short when it comes to accessibility is parking. That’s because it’s easy to fall into the trap of only addressing the most obvious accessibility issues, such as the size and location of parking spaces for people with disabilities. These are obviously important issues, but they only address part of the issue. 

For many cities accessibility often ends at the curb cut. Parking planners tend to do a good job of making it easy to find appropriate parking and get safely out of vehicles and onto sidewalks. However, they don’t always give as much thought to their parking equipment, particularly meters and parking payment machines. 

Impossible To Use

Not all parking equipment is designed with the needs of people with disabilities in mind, and older equipment can be particularly problematic. It’s often too tall or poorly designed for them to use, particularly those in wheelchairs. With the advent of pay-on-foot systems and smart meters, payment kiosks have become a common sight in cities. Unfortunately drivers with disabilities, particularly those in wheelchairs, sometimes can’t use these meters and kiosks because the credit card slots and cash receptacles in the equipment are located beyond their reach. 

As a general rule of thumb, payment receptacles and related buttons should not be located higher than 48 inches from a finished floor or the pavement, and the low forward reach should be no less than 15 inches from the ground. These heights provide easy reach for patrons in wheelchairs to pay. 

Additionally, the location and nature of operable parts can also impact accessibility and should be manageable with one hand while not requiring tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts should not exceed five pounds. This is an important issue because not all disabilities revolve around (or solely around) wheelchair use. Many people with disabilities are ambulatory or partially ambulatory but have limited manual dexterity, and parking equipment should be able to accommodate these users. 

Another important consideration with walk-up kiosks is clear floor or ground space around the kiosk. This is vital because people in wheelchairs and those who use walkers and other mobility equipment need clear access to the equipment. 

When equipment allows a parallel approach to an element and the side reach is unobstructed, the high side reach should not exceed 48 inches and the low side reach should be at least 15 inches. Furthermore, a 30” x 48” clear floor or ground space should be provided to allow forward or parallel approach to users in wheelchairs or those using other mobility equipment.  Finally, a 36 inch minimum clear walking surface should be provided to the kiosk from accessible entrances and from accessible facility elements and/or spaces.

Drive-Up (Entry/Exit) Kiosks & Gates

Drive-up kiosks and gates, such as those found at the exits of parkades, also pose challenges for drivers with disabilities. Reach and clear floor requirements aren’t necessarily an issue at drive-up kiosks and gates because drivers with disabilities present a similar sitting profile to those without disabilities. The primary access-related issues for drive-up payment revolve around two-way communication and vertical clearance.

When it comes to two-way communication, the primary concern is accommodating people with limited reach. Automatic or voice activated communication capabilities can be beneficial because devices that don’t require handsets are easier to use for people with limited reach or limited manual dexterity.

Although Canada doesn’t have national regulations comparable to the ADA in the US, individual provinces do have their own regulations, such as the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Guidelines for clearance are straightforward. Parking spaces for vans and access aisles and vehicular routes serving them should provide a vertical clearance of 98 inches at minimum. Because parking facilities are considered public accommodation these guidelines also call for the removal of barriers if the facility provides goods and services to the public and if removal of the barriers is readily achievable. Parking areas serving warehouses and offices that aren’t open to the public may not need to remove barriers, however.

Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto offers a good example of how to assure that parking payment equipment is accessible. Sunnybrook is the largest single-site hospital in North America, and as with any healthcare facility, accessibility is an extremely important issue because many patients (not to mention people visiting patients) are elderly or suffering from physical challenges. In recent years the hospital has installed state-of-the-art payment equipment, including walk-up kiosks, offering complete access to people in wheelchairs and other individuals with disabilities who may not require wheelchairs.

Accessibility Doesn’t End At The Curb

Accessibility is a vital issue to Canada’s municipalities and it will continue to be as the greying of the nation’s population continues to accelerate. By 2031 it’s expected that nearly one in four Canadians will be 65 or older, and many of those seniors will join people with disabilities in requiring greater access. As we plan for that future, it’s important to remember that handicap access doesn’t end at the curb cut. It’s just as important for parking payment technologies to be accessible to people with any type of accessibility needs. There are many different types of payment equipment, and it is incumbent upon city planners and private parking owners to assure that the equipment upon which they rely is fully accessible.

Renee Smith is president and CTO of Parking BOXX, a leading provider of parking payment technologies. She can be reached at r@parkingboxx.com. 

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