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NORMAL - A placard allows Jill Doran to use parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities.

She said she doesn't use it if she's not the one getting out of the car to go into a store. She also said she doesn't allow family members to abuse the privilege, either.

"It would be taking it away from the next person who really needs it," said Doran, a disability rights advocate at Life Center for Independent Living.

It's also illegal. And as of Jan. 1, the state legislature now requires at least a $250 fine for violations - up from $100. Municipalities can charge as much as $350.

The Normal City Council has increased its fine to $250. Bloomington is expected to do the same in the near future, said city attorney Todd Greenberg.

Most signs in front of the spots still reflect the old $100 fine, but Doran said violators will be charged the new $250 fine.

"I think it's just about time," said Doran. "There's a lot of misuse of accessible parking. It will help deter some people, although it won't deter misuse as a whole. If somebody doesn't care enough to misuse (an accessible parking space), they will still misuse it."

Doran said the biggest offenders locally are family members of a disabled person who use the placard to park in an accessible parking spot even when the disabled person is not getting out of the vehicle.

By law, a vehicle can be parked in an accessible spot only if the person exiting or entering the vehicle is disabled.

Normal building director Greg Troemel estimates there are more than 1,000 of the parking signs in Normal. And, he said, most businesses and property owners probably don't even realize the fine has changed. That's why he's trying to spread the word.

Businesses and others with designated spaces for people with disabilities don't have to get new signs to accommodate the change. The Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois sells outdoor reflective stickers that can be placed over the old sign. The stickers have adhesive much like those used on license plate stickers: Once they are put on, they can't be removed.

The replaceable stickers are $5 each or $4 each for orders of 50 or more. The coalition also sells replacement signs for $11.20 plus shipping costs; the larger disability reserved parking sign goes for $22.50 plus shipping.

Those wanting to order the stickers or replacement signs may request an order form by calling the coalition at (217) 522-7016.

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