Growing up as a sibling of someone living with autism gave me a firsthand perspective on the unique challenges that an individual with disabilities and their family can face on a day-to-day basis. Living with a disability often means you have to navigate a world that isn't made fully accessible for you, making seemingly menial tasks a feat of great perseverance. The experience of mental, physical, emotional, and financial exhaustion is all too commonplace for individuals with disabilities and their families.

Which is why it's shocking and horrifying to learn that the New Bedford Park Board of Commissioners voted to implement a pay-to-park system at Pope's Island Marina parking lot and the Noah's Place Playground. Noah's Place Playground is a fully ADA-accessible playground on Pope's Island in New Bedford just before the Fairhaven Bridge. It was officially opened in 2017 thanks to the vision of the Team Noah Foundation after years of planning and a multi-million dollar community investment. It is the largest playground of its kind in New England.

This park board decision flew under the radar until it was discovered and made public by newly-elected Ward 6 City Councilor Ryan Pereira.

"I was distraught to learn that the Parks Board was even going to consider this and upset that it was even brought before them," Pereira said when he joined me on-air on Saturday. "I wrote a letter in opposition. To my understanding, it was read into the record. However, they unanimously voted to accept the parking fees for that whole parking lot."

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According to Perreira, the new policy grants Marina users one free parking pass, and park goers get two hours of parking before being charged $3 per hour or $15 per day. He also said the parking will be metered by an app people have to download and update with payments.

"It's not going to be a parking meter like it's just a meter that you feed," he said. "Grandma or Grandpa taking their grandkids to the playground are going to have to take out their smartphone and download and app or text a number and then enter credit card information. That starts their two hours for free, then at the third hour they are to have to say (if) they left the park, otherwise they're going to get charged $3an hour. Grandma and Grandpa are going to forget or not know how to stop it, go home and get charged $15 for the day."

Giving the New Bedford Park Board of Commissioners the benefit of the doubt, this decision must have been made with a total lack of awareness. A lack of awareness of how long it can take to get a child with a disability out of the car and to the park then into their favorite swing or slide. A lack of awareness of how much $15 day can impact a parent or guardian who has to pay out of pocket an extraordinary amount for healthcare and home care costs for their child with disabilities. A lack of awareness of how focused a parent or guardian has to be in watching their child with disabilities at the playground and anywhere outside of the home without the added stress keeping time in order to avoid a penalty from the City parks department.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I along with many other members of the disability community sincerely hope the park board will understand the potential consequences of this decision and change course.

Every other playground in the city does not meter its parking, with the exception of the playground at Fort Taber. Councilor Pereira, whose ward includes Fort Taber, said that the pay-to-park system in that location needs to be addressed for the many logistical problems its causing for parents who want to take their kids to the playground.

It's unclear as of now who is making the pay-to-park app or if anyone is profiting off of this venture. Hopefully, it is discovered before parents of kids with disabilities get a bill for taking their kid to the one few public amenities that was specifically built with them in mind.

Park Board of Commissioners Chair Peter Boswell could not be reached for comment. You can listen to the full conversation with Councilor Pereira here:

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