WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A Wilmington man who is disabled as a result of his military service is upset over a UNCW policy regulating handicapped parking on campus.
Quentin Prolux visited campus recently for a project he is working on with some students at the college. He parked in a handicapped parking spot near the campus library, and displayed his state-issued handicap placard on his rearview mirror.
When he returned to his car, Prolux was shocked to see he'd been given a warning ticket for a "handicapped parking violation." Prolux came back to campus a couple of weeks later to work on the same project. He again displayed his handicap placard, and once again received a warning citation for parking in a designated handicapped parking spot.
"It…was shaming in front of my colleagues," Prolux said of how he felt to see the ticket on his car. "I felt like it highlighted [that] I have back issues, I have knee issues. And especially around young people that I'm working with. I don't want to highlight that, you know?"
Prolux, who walks with a cane, said he was afraid the students might also think he'd intentionally broken the law, not understanding he has a state-issued handicapped placard which allows him to park in designated spots for people who are disabled.
"It's embarrassing as a veteran, I believe in honor, and I would never violate a parking placard. My son was combat wounded in Afghanistan. My father was a prisoner of war, my wife served 30 years, we believe in honor…. So if you are abusing a placard, you should have the book thrown at you. But if you are obeying the law. You should not be made to feel like you're guilty," Prolux explained.
Prolux said after getting a second warning citation, he hunted for a sign on campus that explained the parking policy. He found it, near one of the College Road campus entrances. The sign explains that visitors can park for free in the designated visitor lot, and can park for a fee in teal designated visitor spots in other lots on campus.
"Visitors requiring handicap accommodations must display a state-issued placard or license plate and may park in any designated handicap space," the sign reads in a standalone paragraph near the end of the visitor parking instructions.
Prolux read that to mean that he simply needed to display his placard, and he was in compliance. But the university has since explained that handicapped visitors parking outside of the designated visitor lot must register as visitors with the university, and since Prolux did not register with UNCW, he received the warning citations.
Dr. Brian Victor, the associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs at UNCW and the university's ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance officer, apologized if the sign wasn't clear.
"It may make sense from a visitor lot perspective, but it may not make sense from a controlled parking lot perspective, and if that is confusing, it's awesome for us to hear about that because then we have a chance to look at it and rethink it," Victor said after learning about Prolux's concerns.
"On campus, there are visitor spots that are free, and those parking areas have handicapped parking in them, but the rest of the parking lots are controlled access. But it might be confusing because the controlled access doesn't have gate bars or arms, it doesn't appear to be controlled access, it might look like it's just public parking," Victor added.
Prolux said aside from the confusing signage, he objects to the university's policy requiring him to register as a visitor to use handicapped spaces closest to his intended destination. He said that he's already gone through a somewhat involved process to get a handicap placard from the state, and asking him to jump through any additional hoops violates the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"I have to say it took us 57 minutes to get a UNCW permit, which is just handwritten, it's not a state agency. So it's burdensome. If you're in a wheelchair, or more physically disabled, it's a challenge," Prolux explained.
He said he first had to find the sign explaining where the parking office was, then he had to find the building, and then the office within the building, before questioning his citation with parking officials, obtaining a University hang tag, and returning to his intended destination on campus. He felt as a practical matter, it was a lot to ask of someone with limited mobility.
UNCW did not charge Prolux for the campus hang tag, which will allow him to park in handicapped spaces in almost any lot on campus in the future.
Victor said the university is more than happy to accommodate people who need modifications because of a disability, but it is helpful if they call ahead.