One mother’s letter to her local representative has led to Canberra-wide change for families and carers of people with cognitive or behavioural needs and where they can park their vehicles.
It was during a walk from her parking spot at Garran Oval to the Canberra Hospital precinct for an appointment that Laura Gilbert realised something needed to change around how disability permits were assessed.
She was holding hands with her seven-year-old son, Riley, when he made a sudden dash onto the road.
“He slipped between two parked cars as five cars were coming along the road at a decent speed,” Laura said.
“I just caught him in time … afterwards I said to my husband, ‘There’s got to be something we can do about this.'”
Riley loves watching videos about campervan renovations, dancing and knowing when everyone celebrates their birthday.
He also has level 3 autism and ADHD.
“He is such a beautiful child, but he also struggles significantly with social and spatial awareness, as well as danger,” Laura said.
Laura and her husband needed to carry Riley from their parked vehicle to a path or building entrance to make sure he wouldn’t endanger himself.
However, he would thrash about and has reached an age and size where carrying him wasn’t feasible anymore.
“We ended up taking turns going out because it was too difficult to go anywhere with Riley. It was too dangerous,” Laura said.
People with autism can experience low muscle tone, which can lead to tip-toe walking, suffer from other medical conditions such as respiratory issues, and have sensory issues around noise and visual activity.
These things can make walking across a car park difficult and even dangerous.
So Laura took it upon herself to write to her local member, Ginninderra MLA Tara Cheyne, explaining she felt people with neurodivergent needs should be eligible for an Australian Disability Parking Permit, also known as Mobility Parking Permits.
Her letter achieved just that.
Eligibility criteria in the Territory have been expanded to enable medical practitioners to support families and carers of ACT residents applying for a permit when a person has cognitive, behavioural or neurological needs that prevent them from walking safely without continuous support.
Applications must be assessed and supported by a legally qualified medical practitioner or specialist eye doctor.
“This outcome wouldn’t have been possible without Ms Gilbert’s advocacy,” Business and Better Regulation Minister Tara Cheyne said.
“I sincerely thank Canberra’s Laura Gilbert, who first raised this matter with me and shared her own experiences of accessing shops and services with her family.”
Laura said she was “very excited” about the change and hoped eligibility criteria for Mobility Parking Permits would expand across the country.
“I love the way the culture of the world is heading towards a culture of understanding and accepting people,” she said.
“I think equality isn’t about making everyone exactly the same, but about putting people on a better standing point so they can enjoy similar things other people take for granted.”
She said this change would make it safer for people with cognitive or behavioural needs in car parks and make things more accessible for them and their families.
“Convenience is one aspect, it will enable families to be more social and go about their lives, but I think this will also save lives,” Laura said.
The ACT Government manages about 1500 dedicated accessible parking spaces across Canberra, including on-street parking and parking in government-managed car parks. Other accessible parking spaces are available in private car parks and public spaces, which are privately operated or operated by the National Capital Authority.
More information about the Australian Disability Parking Permit, including an application form for ACT residents, can be found at Access Canberra.