EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Several faculty and staff at the University of Texas at El Paso gathered this summer to request waived parking fees for those with disabilities — and after months of rejection, they are continuing their mission.
The project started before the start of the fall semester as UTEP raised prices on parking fees due to the pandemic.
As of right now, parking permits for students are $200 per year and $525 for faculty and staff. This price increase especially affected those with disabilities that have to drive to campus.
“The cumulative costs for a person with a disability over their lifetime is going to be affecting them and creating an economic burden,” said Lorena Murga, associate professor of Sociology at UTEP.
Murga identifies as a person with a disability and said that she often can’t find ADA parking spaces, despite the fact she has paid for a permit. She then has to park far away from her destination, having to walk far distances on crutches.
“Even if we’re able to buy that permit, it’s just a lottery ticket,” said Selfa Chew, associate professor in the Department of History, explaining how this is not just a fight for “free” parking, but for the right to access services that should be accessible for everyone on campus.
The university told KTSM 9 News that they haven’t changed their mind on the issue since September.
“The students pay equally, just like the employees pay equally,” explained Mark McGurk, vice president for Business Affairs at UTEP back in September. “So if I’m a student and I buy a parking garage permit, I pay $200. If I’m a student and I buy an ADA permit, I pay $200. It’s the same. So we have the same equal cost for employees.”
McGurk added that the cost of services is calculated based on the need for parking maintenance and inclusion of shuttle services.
However, Chew explained how shuttle services, especially during the pandemic, require careful time planning and often leave people with disabilities having to wait for a long time, which creates physical discomfort and awakens chronic pain.
After having a petition signed by more than 1,800 students and staff at UTEP, they were joined by student organizations, including the Young Democratic Socialists of America.
Desiree Miller, co-chair of YDSA at UTEP, said they saw the issue of equality with this problem.
“The way we think this [request] is feasible is because the university is already recognizing free parking for disabled veterans, so they would just need to extend that for everyone,” said Miller.
After months of being rejected by the UT Board of Regents to be put on the agenda, the group held a town hall meeting on Dec. 9 that addressed several issues across the UT System.
Students and faculty that joined the meeting recognized not only the lack of ADA parking but also other accessibility issues for the disabled across campus.
They say they will continue in their pursuit, joining forces with other universities in the UT system.
They’re hoping the university will recognize that ADA parking is not a luxury, but a necessity for students and faculty with disabilities to be able to attend class and work without being burdened.