Friday, April 1st is the annual kickoff of World Autism Month, an annual effort by people and organizations to raise awareness and encourage acceptance for people living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
According to the CDC, one in 44 children will be diagnosed with ASD in 2021, a figure that has been rising rapidly for decades. ASD is an intellectual disability and people with it have an atypical way of perceiving the world. Their sensory inputs are hyper-sensitized in some areas and desensitized in others. ASDs and many other developmental disabilities can often be classified as an “invisible disability”, meaning they may not be apparent at first glance.
This is important to keep in mind in light of the discussion surrounding the implementation of a pay-to-park system at Pope’s Island Marina and Noah’s Place Playground in New Bedford. After days of public backlash following Ward 6 Councilman Ryan Pereira’s discovery of this new policy voted on by the Board of Park Commissioners, the Port Authority of New Bedford released a statement to clarify how parking will be regulated.
Although they said they were open to making adjustments to the policy as needed, some of their justifications were unconvincing. Namely, the idea that disabled park users are not affected because vehicles with disabled parking signs park for free. This is an excellent policy which is in line with City and Commonwealth practice, but it is not comprehensive enough to cover the wide range of children with disabilities who should have unrestricted access to the park.
According to Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Registry, eligibility for handicap placards is strictly limited to those with certain physical disabilities that are expected to last longer than two months. Developmental disabilities, such as autism, are not listed as eligible for a placard.
Raising a child with a developmental disability often requires a lot of extra time and expense due to lack of coverage for essential health care and home care services. These services are usually paid for out of pocket or provided by parents or guardians themselves.
Taking a child with a developmental disability to the playground or other social gatherings can often be a logistically complicated and demanding undertaking. In these circumstances, parents and guardians should be able to take their child on a play date without being pushed off the playground by a warning text from the City informing them that they are about to incur a series of potentially unaffordable parking fees.
As Team Noah founder Victor Fernandes once told WBSM’s Tim Weisberg, the two-hour free parking window isn’t enough to meet Noah’s Place playground vision that Team Noah had raised $2 million in community investments to bring it to fruition.
In light of the staunch opposition to this new policy, Mayor Mitchell told WBSM’s Kate Robinson on Tuesday, and during her weekly Wednesday appearance on The Tim Weisberg Show Support policy changes that better reflect the need to make Noah’s Place accessible.
Short of abolishing this program, which was universally rejected before it even began, these new policy changes should at the very least reflect the wide range of people with developmental disabilities who deserve to enjoy the playing field. Noah’s Place game without limits.