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Reserved parking, and no exceptions

POULSBO — “I’ll just be a minute.”

“I’m waiting for my kids.”

“I just have to grab some lunch, real quick.”

“This is just going to take a few seconds.”

Excuses, excuses... and while the majority of the “valid reasons” why people unlawfully park in spots reserved for the handicapped are not ill intended, their impacts often are.

Even though such offenses occur on a daily basis, Poulsbo is working ahead to solve them with the help of its American Disabilities Act committee. The small advisory group — comprised of Mayor Donna Jean Bruce, city clerk Karol Jones, and volunteers Sheila Murray, Lisa Walker and Susan Olsen — tackles the tough issues created by the state to protect the rights of disabled citizens.

The biggest problems surround handicap parking spaces and are all too familiar to the individual volunteers, each of whom has disabilities.

In Washington, disabled drivers have special placards in their vehicles which certify them to occupy the restricted spaces. However, due to an increase in the unauthorized use of these permits the motorists are now also required to carry official ID cards.

Even so, the law is often broken.

“I don’t think people’s intentions are malicious but the effect often is. (For handicapped people) being a shut-in is a problem anyway,” Olsen remarked, noting that the issue is compounded when the specialized parking spots are illegally taken.

“That’s a no-no,” Olsen said.

It’s also a minimum $250 fine.

Actually, the $250 penalty also applies to blocking a disabled parking space and illegally using someone else’s permit. Falsifying permit application information nets a whopping $5,000 fine.

“The biggest number of violations occur at the post office,” Murray pointed out.

The Senior Volunteers, who are now allowed to fine drivers for breaking the disabled person parking law, have helped reduce the number of violators, but violations still occur quite often and in some pretty unique places, too. Walker, who is in a wheelchair, actually ran into problems right at City Hall on Jensen Way. She was late for an ADA committee meeting one day because someone had illegally parked in the designated spot, Olsen explained.

“That’s our buggabo — our always,” Olsen said of the specialized parking spots before delving into other issues the group makes recommendations on to improve handicap access.

“Stores need to be accessible also,” Mayor Bruce said, explaining that everything from doorways to aisles should be able to accommodate people in wheelchairs.

“We try to look at Poulsbo as a whole and not the individual people,” Jones added.

Although the committee is always ready to lend a hand and improve the community, it doesn’t always get a warm reception from local businesses — or one at all for that matter. In 2001, the group sent over 100 letters to entrepreneurs on Viking Avenue, offering a free review of buildings there and suggestions how access could be improved.

It received two replies.

Nonetheless, committee members are not letting the hurdles of the past impede their progress in the future. Later this year, the volunteers will be creating a special ADA guide for small businesses in hopes of providing better information to the community.

“We care about our city and we want it to be better,” Olsen explained.

“Anything we do — big and small — adds to this.”

For more information about the Poulsbo ADA Committee, call 779-3901.

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