08/29/2017 16:56 EDT | Updated 08/29/2017 16:59 EDT

Tell Calgary Airport Disability Rights Are Worth More Than A Quick Buck

Selling off special-needs parking in order to generate revenue sounds like the definition of corporate greed.

The Calgary Airport Authority has found itself in the middle of an unlikely controversy — over accessible parking stalls.

It all started when a family with special-access needs arrived at the airport and sought out an accessible parking space. On their previous visits to the airport, they knew that these stalls were to be earmarked for people with special needs, and they knew where they were to be located.

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Much to their surprise, however, their usual spaces were nowhere to be found. Instead, they found five spaces printed with Lexus logos and identified as preferred parking for drivers of the luxury brand automobile.

The family wrote a letter of complaint to the airport. In it, they expressed concern over their experience. They were understandably upset over the loss of these pivotally important accessible parking spaces at their local airport.

On Monday, the airport authority responded by releasing an official statement, apologizing for the decision to convert accessible parking spaces to "Lexus Preferred Parking" and promising to reverse the decision.

It described this action as being "clearly out of touch with our commitment to being an accessible facility." The stalls are to be reconverted "as soon as possible."

The airport authority fell short of providing a timeline as to when the stalls will be reconverted.

Nevertheless, it cited revenue stream as the culprit for its ill-conceived adjustment. A spokesperson for the airport confirmed that it had agreed to sell the spaces to the luxury car brand as advertising space in order to make some money.

In its haste to do so, it made no arrangements to have alternative accessible parking stalls provided in lieu. Without accessible parking, travellers with mobility needs were left in a tough spot — no pun intended.

Accessible parking stalls are no laughing matter for people with mobility needs. They are provided because the government recognizes that citizens with access issues require them.

To this end, they are specifically regulated in order to ensure that they serve the purpose that is intended of them. Accessible parking stalls must be located within a reasonable distance of facility entrances and exits. They are also required to be of particular dimensions, in order to accommodate larger vehicles, like vans and mobility equipment, like lifts and wheelchairs.

Perhaps we could say that this was a misstep — a sheer mistake. But we know that it was not.

In Alberta, stalls are regulated by the Safety Codes Act, which requires all public access buildings to comply with accessibility guidelines and to provide a barrier-free environment for members of the public.

If one wishes to park in an accessible stall, an application process is necessary and a placard must be issued. In order for the application to be successful, the applicant must provide medical proof from an authorized health-care provider that they are unable to walk 50 metres or more without aid.

This stringent process has been put into place in order to ensure that these stalls are properly reserved for people with real mobility issues, and that they are not abused by fraudsters. Parking in an accessible stall without a placard is an offence.

It's clear that accessible parking stalls are important and necessary — so it is puzzling how the Calgary Airport Authority never got the memo.

Perhaps we could say that this was a misstep — a sheer mistake. But we know that it was not.

Getty Images
The entrance to Calgary International Airport.

Accidentally converting the stalls is one thing. Converting them for profit is another.

The fact that the airport was so quick to sell these stalls to its financial benefit is terribly troubling. It goes without saying that raising resources is a concern for any business in this day and age, but selling off the rights of the disabled in order to generate revenue sounds like the definition of corporate greed.

That the stalls were allotted to the benefit of luxury car owners only adds insult to injury. With an entry-level Lexus costing more than $30,000, the privilege of driving one is only afforded to the affluent. There is no reason to afford the driver of a luxury vehicle special parking privileges at a public transportation facility on the sole basis of their luxury vehicle.

To think that the wealthy can purchase a certain luxury item, and bypass rules and regulations which others must abide by — to the detriment of a minority group — is offensive to the very core.

And while this particular advertising campaign for Lexus — and monetary benefit received by the airport — is not prohibited or necessarily conceived of in poor taste, the fact that disabled people were denied access to the very parking stalls created to their benefit renders it so.

Perhaps the Calgary Airport Authority should have consulted the Edmonton Airport prior to implementing this campaign. That airport was able to profit from the advertising space, while simultaneously keeping all accessible parking stalls intact last year. In doing so, it avoided controversy and public outcry.

At the end of the day, the Calgary Airport Authority conceded that it "didn't put enough thought into the impact that would have on our passengers." Let's hope they put more thought into things in the future.

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