At the University of Texas, students have to pay for their disabilities.
For years, UT Parking and Transportation Services has put a price tag on accessibility for the disabled population — the most recent example being the new $300 D+ parking permit created this past summer.
It is unacceptable that students’ conditions are being used against them to make a profit. In order to create a more accessible and inclusive environment, PTS needs to listen to the voices of students with disabilities.
The D+ permit was created by PTS after the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation discovered many D parking spaces were not in compliance with ADA standards. To ensure that students with disabilities would not lose those parking spots, PTS turned all noncompliant D spaces into D+ spaces.
D+ spaces are not technically compliant with standards, but their close location to buildings and other areas of campus are useful for handicapped students. While they are not labeled as ADA parking, D+ spaces are solely reserved for students with disabilities. However, it comes with a hefty $300 price tag.
PTS director Bobby Stone said the price is due to the quality of locations and the non-ADA label. When they were D parking spots, the locations cost $150 — the lowest price of a regular permit PTS offers. However, since D+ does not count as an ADA space, the location no longer gets the benefit of that low price.
“They’re not D spaces anymore,” Stone said. “We wanted to keep those spaces available for the ADA community, but everyone parking around them was paying an excess of $600. I felt like for us to be equitable to everyone, the price of that permit needed to reflect the location.”
Whether the spaces are labeled as ADA or not, students with disabilities are still using these parking spots as a necessary means of getting to campus. There is nothing new about the location itself— the only thing that has changed is the price.
While PTS advertises both D and D+ permits as options, students are often forced to buy the more expensive choice by circumstance. This exact situation happened to Samantha Miles, a communication and leadership sophomore, this semester.
“There’s only like 60 spots left of D spots,” Miles said. “Even though I don’t need (D+), I’m an RA in San Jac, (and) all the spots (nearby) are D+, so I was basically forced to buy D+.”
PTS is making students pay for the fact that not all of their spaces complied with ADA standards. They did not have to raise the price to $300. They prioritized money over the needs of students with disabilities.
“I don’t think (PTS) truly cares about the well-being of students with disabilities; they just see us as a paycheck,” Miles said. “And that’s not a rogue opinion of mine. They just don’t really seem to take my concerns seriously.”
Students are not restricted by their disability. It’s PTS’s lack of awareness that is the restriction. I could give a number of recommendations that range from eliminating disability parking fees to including more people with disabilities on staff, but in the end, my advice does very little if PTS still refuses to listen to the voices of those who are being used for profit. For real systemic change, PTS needs to spend less time giving out parking tickets and more time communicating with the people who they’re supposed to be serving.
Lopez is a rhetoric and writing sophomore from Nederland, Texas.