Access Israel, a nonprofit organization that advocates the rights of the country's estimated 150,000 disabled community, launched an awareness campaign Wednesday aimed at protecting disabled parking spaces from being illegally utilized by those who do not need them.
According to the organization's founder and director, Yuval Wagner, the campaign is aimed at addressing a growing phenomenon of able-bodied people parking intentionally in disabled parking spots.
"People with disabilities have no choice of where they can park," Wagner told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. "If they are forced to park too far away, it's impossible for them to get to where they're going."
Wagner, himself a wheelchair-bound IDF veteran, said he found himself in such situations every day.
"It's embarrassing sometimes. I get to a place and the disabled spot has been taken," he said. "I don't know what to do. Do I wait for a few minutes? Or do I just give up? We live with the fear that it will happen every time we leave the house."
Wagner said there were three types of people who broke the law in this way.
"The first are drivers who are too lazy to find a legal parking spot or who claim they will just be there for a few minutes and think it's okay; second are those who create for themselves false disabled parking badges, which is illegal, but many people do it; and the third kind are family members of the disabled who use the badge even if the person with a disability is not with them," he said.
"Despite the differences, the end result is the same," he went on. "It is totally unbearable for a disabled person to go out for whatever reason and not to be able to find anywhere to park."
While there are some 80,000 people in Israel who need to use disabled parking, Access Israel believes there should be enough space for all of them to park comfortably.
"Over the last few years an increasing number of disabled parking spaces have been created for people," explained Wagner. "It was supposed to solve the previous problem, but sadly the opposite has happened because there are many more people who break the law."
Working together with the police's Department for Transportation and with assistance from more than 50 large companies, the organization's awareness campaign includes a short film to be shown on television, as well as other media advertisements, educational programs in schools and an information leaflet to be distributed in public places.
In addition to the campaign, the organization also advocates for tougher punishments for those who break the law, and increased enforcement of that law.
With the help of new legislation, Wagner hopes the current fine of NIS 500 will be increased to NIS 1,000 and that offenders could also lose their license if they park in a disabled space.
"We don't want people to think twice about parking in a disabled spot. We want them to think 10 times before they do such an act," Wagner said.