Hey, MassDOT: Don’t make disabled parking impossible for disabled people

  • Holly Handfield, of Easthampton, stands by her car packed in a handicapped spot at Old Navy in Hadley and talks about the delays she encountered getting handicapped tags for her car. STAFF PHOTO/Carol Lollis

Published: 9/19/2018 8:02:52 AM

Imagine this scenario: You’ve just broken your hip, and you suddenly find yourself on crutches, struggling to get around. It’s a temporary condition, so you head to your local Registry of Motor Vehicles branch to apply for a temporary disability parking placard. Seems simple enough — you expect to leave with your placard the same day. Only, when you get to the RMV, you’re told that you’ll have to wait for your placard to arrive in the mail — should take four to six weeks.

That’s what happened to Ashfield resident Tom McCrumm, 73, who broke his hip skiing two years ago. With his paperwork ready, he headed to the Greenfield RMV expecting to wait around for 20 minutes or so before leaving with a temporary disability parking placard. Instead, he left empty-handed — and indignant. “Fuming,” is how McCrumm put it. “I’m still bent out of shape about it two years later.”

McCrumm is one of several people with whom Gazette reporter Greta Jochem spoke for her Sept. 14 article, “Lawmakers: Waiting game for handicap placards unacceptable in WMass,” published a few days after state Sen. Eric P. Lesser sent a letter about the egregious processing delays to the attention of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Among the letter’s other signers: state reps John W. Scibak, Stephen Kulik and Solomon Goldstein-Rose.

Legislators from western Massachusetts raised the issue of the placards more than two years ago, at which time Erin C. Deveney, Registrar of Motor Vehicles, responded to then-Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and other lawmakers in a Feb. 1, 2016 letter, acknowledging the drawn-out application process (“The RMV recognizes that this is not an acceptable service level”). She assured the legislators that the problem would be remedied, with steps taken to re-educate staff. She also noted that the agency planned to hire two new customer service representatives to speed up the system.  

But it’s still painfully slow. We stand with the 14 legislators from our four western Massachusetts counties who, on Sept. 10, wrote to state Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack about the continuing injustice of residents here having to wait months to receive placards when residents in the eastern part of the state can get them in a day at the Boston RMV. Applications are processed right then and there in the RMV’s Haymarket office. Among the legislators requests: “a concrete plan” from the RMV for how they will address this issue going forward. And, no, that plan should not include any suggestion that western Massachusetts residents drive all the way to the Boston RMV to get a head start. 

“The suggestion that already-handicapped residents of western Massachusetts should endure a taxing round-trip drive of 150 miles or more to Boston in order to obtain a handicap placard is insensitive, to say the least, and displays a shocking indifference to the reason they need the placards in the first place,” the letter reads.

We recognize this indifference but can’t say that it’s entirely shocking. Shameful? Yes, absolutely. But as the letter writers say, the disability placard issue is part of a bigger picture: “This is clearly a pattern in which residents of western Massachusetts continue to be treated as second-class citizens, with unequal access to the state resources enjoyed by residents of eastern Massachusetts.”

“What’s so special about living in Boston? We’re all here, we have the same Department of Transportation,” as McCrumm, the Ashfield man who broke his hip, put it.

After his frustrating experience at the Greenfield RMV, McCrumm contacted Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who helped him get a placard about a week later.

“But someone shouldn’t have to call their legislator to have to do that,” Kulik told the Gazette. 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation said in a statement earlier this month that it has made progress on the issue, and that “most customers are currently receiving placards within a week of sending their applications to the Registry.”

But the Gazette spoke with people in the region who have experienced delays similar to what McCrumm went through.

​​​​​​Deb Levheim, of South Hadley, applied for a handicap placard last winter. “We didn’t get it until after April of this year,” she said. “There was no way I was going to go to Boston.”

Levheim’s certified nursing assistant, Julia Beaudoin, added that her own mother applied last year for a handicap placard. It took several months to arrive.

“It’s really kind of ridiculous,” she said.

We agree with Beaudoin: This is ridiculous. And it’s unfair. As winter approaches, we hope the Massachusetts Department of Transportation can get it together to come up with a concrete plan for processing disability placards in a timely manner — and stick to it.

At a certain point, indifference is just another word for cruelty.

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