Lora Taylor’s passion for accessible parking lead her on an advocacy journey.
From Passion to Advocacy
Lora Taylor got so frustrated with the lack of van accessible parking that she decided to do something about it. She knew legislation was needed to solve the problem, but where to start? Lora was not a trained advocate and she didn’t have experience working with legislators. Fortunately, a chance occurrence jump-started Lora’s inspiring and instructive journey from passionate parent to disability advocate.
Accessible Parking Woes
Lora Taylor would arrive at a Houston-area medical center in her family’s accessible van and she couldn’t find a spot to park. The medical center had plenty of accessible parking spots, but the van accessible spots were usually occupied by cars that displayed disabled parking placards or license plates. Even though van accessible spots are designed for vans, any vehicle with a placard or plate can legally park there.
The Americans with Disabilities Act stipulates that one in every six accessible parking spots must be a van accessible spot. What makes van accessible spots unique is that they feature an 8-foot-wide access aisle that accommodates the ramp or lift (about 4 feet) and provides space for a wheelchair to get off the ramp and turn (3 feet). Van accessible parking is also closest to the entrance.
Not being able to park in a van accessible spot posed a problem to Lora and her family. Lora’s 33-year-old daughter, Julie, has complex medical needs, so trips to the medical center are commonplace for the family. When they would arrive at the center and be unable to find a van accessible spot, Lora would have to improvise. “I would park my van sideways across two regular spots so there would be enough space to open the side door and use the lift,” Lora said. In order to find two adjacent spots, she would often have to park on the roof of the parking garage. Julie has a severe seizure disorder and exposure to extreme heat can cause a major medical problem. Being in the heat while going to and from the center can be dangerous; getting back into an extremely hot van just exacerbates the problem. As a self-described “Do it yourself” type of person, Lora improvised again and she now uses a sedan to transport Julie to her medical appointments. She keeps a fold-up wheelchair in the trunk and Lora physically picks Julie up to help her get in and out of the wheelchair. Their accessible van sits idle in their driveway.
Lora is a 60-year-old piano teacher and her slight build is not well suited for lifting another person. Eventually, the combination of years of frustration due to a lack of van accessible parking and a sore back caught up with her. Lora decided that, if it was legal for any vehicle with a placard or license plate to park in a van accessible spot, it was time to change the law.
Lora wanted the law to be changed so only vans could legally park in van accessible spots. For the law to change, she knew she would have to raise awareness about this issue with state legislators and hope that there would be support for a bill.
But where to start? And how? Lora had never participated in a formal advocacy training program, so calling legislative offices and visiting the Capitol were new to her — and a little intimidating. As luck would have it, Lora’s friend bumped into Lora’s legislator at a political function. Her friend explained Lora’s situation and the next day a staff person from the legislator’s office contacted Lora. From there the process was off and running. “I started to make legislative visits and talked to everyone I could about accessible parking,” she said. During September and October 2014, Lora visited legislative offices at the Capitol in Austin. Believing accessible parking is more of an urban than a rural issue, her strategy was to focus on legislators who represented the largest metro areas in Texas. Once a visit was scheduled, Lora maximized her trip and scheduled additional visits with other legislators who had offices nearby. In all, Lora visited 18 senators and seven state representatives in two months.
Lora developed an effective routine when meeting with legislators. She started by introducing them to her daughter. “Any mother can go and talk about their child — that’s the easy part,” Lora said.
Lora would show them a picture of Julie in her wheelchair and describe Julie’s medical conditions. She would explain how the lack of van accessible parking impacts her family and why changing the law can help not just her family, but others who are affected, too.
So far, the feedback Lora has received has been overwhelmingly positive and addressing the issue seems to have bipartisan support. Most of the people she has met with agree that changing the law makes sense. If accessible parking spaces are created for vans, they should be saved for vans.
Lora is optimistic that a bill will be introduced in the 84th legislative session that will make it illegal for vehicles that don’t have ramps to park in van accessible spots. Ideally, the bill would not include a fiscal note (i.e. it won’t require funding), thus potentially increasing the likelihood that it will pass. If a bill is passed, it could take some time to be phased in. And it will have to be enforced, which can be a whole other issue. Lora believes an awareness campaign could inform people about the new law and explain why it’s important. Lora is well aware that the legislative process can be unpredictable and she is prepared to work on this issue for multiple sessions, if necessary. She is also determined to not let one bill — pass or fail — prevent her from advocating on future issues.
Before this journey began, Lora was familiar with phrases like “The Capitol belongs to the citizens” and “It is up to the citizens to make change.” She heard these phrases but they hadn’t clicked in her mind. Now they do. She’s experienced them first hand. Lora’s at the point where she is comfortable in the Capitol and she’s actively involved in the legislative process, working to solve problems to help people. Lora also admits that she had not entirely grasped the concept that the government is there to serve the people. She does now. “When you have a problem, that is what your representative is there for,” Lora said. “They really want to help.”
So how does Lora describe her experience, which included intimidating first-time visits to the Capitol? “It’s been fun to get to know the people and learn that they really want to help,” Lora said. “Besides, it’s easy to go in and advocate for something you’re passionate about. I would encourage everyone to pick an issue and get involved.”
A day for the Taylors at Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio: Lora (right) and Don Taylor with two of their daughters, Julie (center) and Jennifer (left).
“Lora Taylor is a governor-appointed member of the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities. She lives with her family in Houston, where she is a piano teacher.”