Paula Yebba can’t walk 30 steps without stopping to rest because of spinal stenosis, a chronic and painful back ailment.
When she lived in Everett, Yebba had a handicapped-only parking space on the street in front of her rented apartment. It spared her from making long treks to her car.
But when the family moved to Revere last summer and Yebba asked for a similar parking spot in front of her new home, the city said no.
In Revere, she was told, you need to own your home, not rent it, to get an HP space on the street.
Well, that didn’t make sense to me, and at first I doubted it could be true. But then I found it spelled out on the City of Revere website: To be eligible for an HP space, you must be “a full-time, year-round resident of Revere and own your home.”
But spinal stenosis and other disabilities don’t affect only property owners. So why should Revere exclude renters?
Yebba, 59, a customer service representative for a bank, got her HP space in Everett after submitting documentation, including a doctor’s certification of her diagnosis, and appearing at a City Hall hearing to describe her need and answer any questions.
Soon after, an Everett public works crew installed two poles and two blue signs designating a space in front of her apartment as handicapped-only. (Such spaces are reserved for anyone with a disability, not only for the person who requested it.)
After moving to Revere, Yebba contacted Ralph DeCicco, the chair of a city committee on disabilities and city coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 landmark federal legislation that aims to guarantee full rights to those with disabilities.
Yebba said DeCicco told her on the telephone that only the “landlord” of a rental property could apply for an HP space, and that the landlord had to live on the premises. (Yebba’s landlord does not live there but supports her quest for an HP space, she said.)
Even though DeCicco said Yebba wasn’t qualified to submit an application, she did so anyway. (The application asked, “Do you own the property where you are requesting the Accessible Space to be installed?”)
Yebba said DeCicco called her back minutes later and said words to the effect of, “Why are you sending me these? I already told you only the landlord can apply and the landlord must live there.”
I spent several days calling and sending e-mails to DeCicco, but he did not respond.
Mayor Brian Arrigo did step up to apologize to Yebba on behalf of the city, saying the “owners-only” rule was a mistake and that it has now been stricken.
Before speaking with me, Arrigo ordered a quick review that turned up two other instances of people wrongly denied HP spaces because they are renters.
“We are certainly sorry to Paula Yebba and the others,” he said. “We’re not perfect, and we’re obviously embarrassed. But we’re tackling it head-on.”
Here are some things I learned about disabilities that may be applicable to you or someone you know in “fighting city hall”:
Yebba said she contacted the state Office of Disability after being turned down in Revere. After she explained herself, Yebba said, the person on the phone asked her to send him a copy of the Revere “owners only” rule.
Yebba said she “kind of gave up” at that point, and never sent it. She should have.
Also, it would have been nice if the state worker had been a little more proactive, as in “let me look this up myself,” especially because one of the main duties of that office is to “support and guide” municipalities on such issues.
The people who get results are the ones who follow through. It might motivate you when you encounter a wrong to keep in mind that your fight is also for others like you.
Yebba contacted me last week, six months after the city’s denial, at the urging of her husband, after he read a recent column.
Know the Americans with Disabilities Act
Here’s one way to think of it: Anything state and local governments offer to the public must be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities (unless there is a good reason to make an exception).
The City of Revere offers and regulates on-street parking. It is a service it offers to everyone. Therefore, it must be accessible and usable by people with disabilities.
Look for resources
The state Office on Disability acts as a resource by providing information, guidance, and training. It is not an enforcement agency.
The Disability Law Center, a private, nonprofit organization with a staff of almost two dozen lawyers, serves as the federally mandated “protection and advocacy” agency for Massachusetts, part of a national network charged with investigating abuse and neglect and providing legal representation and advocacy for people with disabilities.
Understand the municipality’s responsibilities
About 200 of the state’s 351 municipalities have created commissions on disabilities, empowered under state law to make sure the municipalities comply with state and federal laws. Revere has not adopted the provisions of the state law to fully empower the panel that it set up.
Almost 40 municipalities have adopted a state law that strengthens local efforts by allowing them to use the revenue from fines for HP space violations to fund programs run by the local commissions on disabilities. Among them are Belmont, Beverly, Boston, Dedham, Duxbury, Fall River, Framingham, Mashpee, Millbury, Natick, Newton, Norwell, Peabody, Quincy, Salem, Somerville, and Worcester.