April 3, 2017 3:45 pm
Updated: April 10, 2017 10:19 pm

Vancouver’s disabled drivers fight for ‘basic right’ to wheelchair accessible parking in condos

WATCH: A Vancouver woman is regularly held hostage in her own underground parkade as able bodied drivers use the wheelchair parking stalls. As Geoff Hastings reports, there’s a push to change the provincial strata laws that allow disabled parking spots to go to drivers who don’t need them.

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When 35-year-old Yasaman Best drives back home from work, she crosses her fingers in the hopes that there will be a disabled parking spot available in her visitor parking when she arrives.

But often she returns home to see vehicles parked there, some with disabled passes and some without. She is then forced to wait in her vehicle, sometimes up two hours, until her husband arrives home to let her out and park the car for her.

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Without accessible parking, Best, who became paraplegic 15 years ago in a car crash, doesn’t have enough space to fully open her driver’s side door to assemble and disassemble her wheelchair beside her vehicle.

“I feel so dependent. I’ve worked so hard to become independent. [Recently], three people parked illegally in the disabled guest spot. One person was using it to wash his car,” she says.

Her one-and-half year old son Alex has also been stuck waiting inside the vehicle because there’s not enough space for Best to manoeuvre around to the back door in order to load and unload her child’s car seat. As a result, she’s stopped picking up Alex from daycare, a task she says she looked forward to doing after work.

Best, who lives in a complex near Oak St., has an assigned “small car” spot. She says the wheelchair accessible spot in her condo’s underground reserved parking is currently assigned to the unit of an able-bodied person; which is legal.

The City of Vancouver requires buildings to have a minimum number of accessible parking stalls. But once the standards are met, the City does not extend past that approval process, according to the City’s Transportation Division. Buildings have to maintain the required number of disability parking spaces, but the City does not regulate the assignment of those spaces.

Provincially, there is nothing in the Strata Property Act to ensure that only people with physical disabilities get to use wheelchair accessible spots.

“I think the point is to ensure that disabled people have parking spaces that they can use,” says lawyer Chris Carta. “The problem is obviously enforcement. There does not appear to be any way to enforce the rule after the spaces are built… It is appalling that the City just gets to the approval process and steps back.”

There are other pieces of legislation like the B.C. Human Rights Code that do protect people with disabilities. For example, a strata has the duty to accommodate a person with a physical disability to the point of “undue hardship”, says Dylan Mazur from Community Legal Assistance Society. But, Mazur, adds it only needs to be reasonable, not perfect, which means all parities may be required to compromise.

“This is a broad, systemic problem that requires some sort of remedy. At the moment, municipal bylaws requiring developers to build disabled parking spots in stratas are nothing more than a requirement to put a bunch of blue paint on the ground,” adds Mazur.

Best says her strata has done everything they can to do to be accommodating and understands they can’t break a legal lease, but her dilemma still persists.

“I can’t just get in and out of my car and go upstairs to my home.”

Best’s case is not isolated.

Seven years ago, Sherry Caves moved into her apartment in the West End. Since then, she’s been struggling with a lack of accessible parking.

Caves parks in her assigned ‘standard’ size parking spot and doesn’t have enough space to deploy her ramp to get out of her vehicle.

“I watched all these able-bodied people in wheelchair spots across from me. They see me, I park halfway out of my spot in order to deploy my ramp. I’ve gotten complaints,” she says.

Sherry Caves is forced to park halfway out of her parking spot in order to deploy her ramp.

“I just want to be an independent person who uses a wheelchair. I’ve tried everything from begging to pleading and I’ve just finally stopped. I’m just trying to live my life”

In another case, Jocelyn Maffin, who lives in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, says her “condo sold the wheelchair unit after the City signed off on the building.” She says her condo’s disabled parking spots are also occupied by able-bodied people.

“It really does impact my life. I can’t do the grocery shopping because I can’t get any of it into or out of the car where we park. It’s a real problem and it has a daily impact on our lives,” Maffin says.

“B.C.’s laws need to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights to access their homes as people without disabilities. This is basic. If our laws don’t make that possible right now, that has to change,” says NDP opposition critic David Eby. With more and more people living in condos, Eby says, our laws need to keep up with this growing trend and ensure people with disabilities are “able to park and access their homes in the same way as their able-bodied neighbours.”

B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman was not available for comment, but a spokesperson with the Ministry of Natural Gas Development says the province is not considering a change in legislation at this time.

Best, Caves and Maffin are fighting to effect change. They would like to see enforcement from the City after the requirements are met. And they say it’s time to amend the Strata Property Act to ensure disabled spots are only available to the people they were designed for.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to realize that the law goes only as far as the lines drawn on the ground and not how they actually get used by the people who need them,” says Maffin.

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