INVESTIGATES: COVID testing site blocks off disabled parking at The Avenues

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax continues to investigate businesses blocking off their own disabled parking spots.

Disabled drivers are frustrated finding parking that’s covered by Christmas tree tents and COVID-19 testing sites.

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Alethea Vogel can’t walk very far.

“I’ve got a disc in my back pushing on my spine, on the nerve back there, and I can’t walk very far. I also have fibromyalgia and my legs are weak,” disabled driver Alethea Vogel said,

That’s why when she drives around Jacksonville, she needs to use a disabled parking spot, especially coming and going from The Avenues every day taking her granddaughter to and from work.

“There doesn’t seem to be any consideration for people that are disabled,” Vogel said.

In the lot, a COVID-19 testing site is blocking off three of six spots that sit in front of a main entrance, right where Vogel needs to be.

“They could have erected their tents or their testing site just a few yards over and it wouldn’t have affected people that are disabled,” Vogel said.

She said it isn’t just the mall that does this, which sounds familiar.

We started looking into this issue last week after Action News Jax received complaints about blocked off disabled parking at Lowe’s. After reaching out to corporate, we got both of the spots reopened to disabled drivers.

The two spots that were once covered with black plastic bags and blocked off by products are now cleared for use.

We also found spots blocked off at Home Depot last week.

A spokesperson told us the parking lot exceeds the minimum number of required disabled spots. So, in blocking off two they are still complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Back at The Avenues, city officials told us it has a total of 5,589 spaces with 69 disabled spots.

That’s three more spots than the minimum of 66, so technically the mall is also still complying with the ADA.

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However, ADA officials said these businesses need to maintain all accessible spots.

Under the “Maintenance of accessible features” section in the ADA regulations handbook, public accommodations must be in operable working conditions.

A disabled parking space must be open.

“If you’re blocking off parking or blocking off the access aisle you’re not maintaining that accessible feature,” Southeast ADA Center lead information specialist Rebecca Williams said.

Furthermore, Williams said if a business chose to build more than the minimum number of disabled spots, it needs to maintain them all.

“They chose to have three more accessible parking spaces. They need to maintain those three additional parking spaces as being open and available for the use of people with disabilities,” Williams said.

The legal number of spots doesn’t matter to Vogel.

“It’s about what people need, what their customers need, and I would like to see something done about that,” Vogel said.

Vogel said these businesses will literally drive away disabled customers if they don’t make a change.

“Disabled people aren’t a priority,” Vogel said.

City officials also told us the Lowe’s on Oldfield Crossing Drive has a total of 757 spaces with 14 handicap spaces. According to the 2010 ADA standards, this particular Lowe’s is not in compliance with the minimum number of disabled parking spaces. There should be 16.

We reached out to corporate once again and asked why this is so. The plans given to us are from 1996 before the 2010 standards came out.

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According to the ADA site:

“The 2010 Standards include a “safe harbor” for features that already comply with the 1991 Standards, but may not meet the new 2010 Standards.

For example, “A retail store’s parking lot has a total of 250 parking spaces. In compliance with 1991 Standards, the lot includes seven accessible spaces, one of which is van-accessible. The 2010 Standards require two van-accessible spaces, but the store does not have to modify its parking lot to provide the additional space until the lot undergoes a planned alteration (re-striping, re-surfacing, etc.) Any alterations made after March 15, 2012 must comply with the 2010 Standards, to the maximum extent feasible.”

ADA officials said if you feel a business is not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, you can call your regional office.

To learn more about ADA rules, click here.

We reached out to The Avenues and the COVID Clinic about why they chose to block off disabled parking for the testing site.

We have not received a statement from either one of them.