Parking meters pose problems for disabled drivers

Sarah Walker reaches to put money in a downtown parking meter.

The new parking meters installed downtown and in Broad Ripple were meant to be easier. You can pay with debit/credit cards even by phone. But for some drivers, the meters have turned out to be more difficult than the old ones, where you put in several coins and turned the knob.

Sarah Walker, for one, almost always finds an open parking spot, but what's hard is feeding the meter.

"I have to plan everything and make sure someone meets me or goes with me, so I can't just run downtown and do errands," Walker said.

Walker, who works at WTHR, uses a wheelchair and her service dog, Hep, to get round. When she pulls into an accessible parking place, she has no problem getting to the accessible meter or even reaching up to the pay slot.

But when it comes to figuring out how much to pay for how long? She can't see the screen at the top of the meter.

That's because unlike the multi-space pay boxes where the screens are flat, the screens on the accessible meters tilt back, out of her view.

"I can press (the buttons), but I can't see what's on the screen," she said.

So what's the law on accessible meters?

Eyewitness News found the Americans with Disabilities Act requires "all operable parts, including but not limited to slots for payment (be) no higher than 48 inches from the ground."

Pulling out a tape measure, we found that first meter measured 48 inches to the slot where you insert a credit or debit card.

So even though Walker can't see the screen, one might argue at 48 inches, it's in compliance. But when we measured three other nearby meters, we found heights ranging from 50 to nearly 52 inches - or four inches above the ADA standard.

Was Walker surprised?

"I really am, because anybody sitting down would realize a person sitting down can't see the screen," she said.

When we called the mayor's office, we were referred to ParkIndy, the company the city contracts with to oversee and enforce its meter system.

A ParkIndy spokesman initially noted drivers could pay with their smartphones. When we told him Walker didn't have a smartphone, he told us he'd get back to us.

In a statement, ParkIndy said their goal "is to make parking as simple as possible for everyone in Indianapolis." They also said while Walker's was the first complaint that had come to their attention, they'd work with the Department of Public Works and the Office of Disability Affairs "to study this matter further..." for someone who actually wants to feed the meter, but can't without help.

Greg Fehribach, an Indianapolis attorney active in disability issues, said there is an exemption for those unable to use the meters, like Walker, something neither Walker nor ParkIndy knew about. But it still doesn't address the varying heights of the meters and whether they're in compliance.