On July 4th, Americans celebrated 239 years of independence and later this month, our country will mark another historic moment. The 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act the law guarantees independence and accessibility for millions of people with physical disabilities.
But a CBS investigation suggests that independence is now being threatened here in the state of Wisconsin.
For Joel Hoedel, and thousands of other people with disabilities, simply getting in and out of a vehicle is no easy task.
Joel's wheelchair has to be assembled and disassembled every time he makes a stop. And he needs lots of extra room in order to do that.
\"If I can only open my door a foot, there's no way that I can get in my vehicle, take apart my chair, put it beside me. So in my instance, I need the extra space,\" said Hoedel.
As you'd expect, Joel's vehicle bears the special disability plates which entitles him to park in the reserved spots now required outside nearly all public and commercial facilities.
And the main rule for getting the plates is pretty simple. If you can't walk more than 200 feet without stopping to rest or getting assistance, you qualify.
But not everyone with those special plates appears to be going through the same laborious process as Joel. Take this woman for instance, she caught our attention after driving pretty aggressively in our parking lot while talking on her cellphone. After parking in a disabled spot, she climbs out of her SUV, cellphone still in hand, and walks briskly to a building more than 300 feet away without any problem whatsoever.
Within minutes, a second woman emerges from her car, bearing the special plates reserved for disabled veterans. She also covers the same distance, more than 300 feet, without any issue whatsoever.
\"Yes, this is my car and those are my plates. I don't use the space unless everything else is taken,\" said the woman.
And moments later, a third woman, again parked in a disabled spot, walks more than 300 feet to her car without stopping and without help. And when confronted, this is what she told us.
\"I have a thing in my back that makes it hard for me to walk sometimes. Excuse me, I have to go pick up my kids,\" said the woman.
\"There are many ways that people can break the law if they want to,\" said Diana Sullivan.
We shared our parking lot video with Diana Sullivan from Independence First. A local group that advocates on behalf of thousands of disabled residents here in the Milwaukee area. She cautions that not all disabilities are readily apparent, but she says the video still raises some red flags.
\"When you see somebody walking more than 200 feet without stopping and without assistance, yeah, I think I'd be suspicious,\" said Sullivan.
In fact, Sullivan said people obtaining disability plates under false pretenses is a huge problem in the state of Wisconsin.
\"We have a group of advocates who have been working very hard now for the past 15 years trying to get the state to be more strict about their requirements,\" said Sullivan.
Many surrounding states have already enacted legislation designed to curb this type of abuse. Michigan for instance requires a specific diagnosis on it's disability application. So does Minnesota. Indiana makes applicants sign a sworn statement under penalty of perjury. And in Illinois, doctors face stiff fines for knowingly falsifying disability certifications.
Wisconsin's application contains no such penalties or requirements.
\"There's really no dis-incentive for a doctor *not* to sign something for a patient,\" Sullivan said.
CBS 58 reached out to State Representative Josh Zepnick with Sullivan's concerns. In response, he's now offering to sponsor new legislation that would plug the holes in wisconsin's application process.
\"We need to tighten things up so that those spots go to the people who really need them,\" said Sullivan.
Zepnick told Paul, he hopes to have a new bill drafted in time for the anniversary of the Americans with disabilities act on July 26th.