Everything You Need to Know About Handicap Parking
Accessible parking is a hot-button issue. Find out why—and how to follow the rules.
We’ve all driven around a parking lot in circles looking for a free space, passing by an empty space or two saved for handicap parking. Maybe you’ve wondered if you could use one of those spaces in an extremely full lot (the answer is no!), or maybe you’ve seen someone pull in just to run in and out of the store quickly. If you don’t use a wheelchair, you might not know just how frustrating this is.
Accessible parking is one of those issues that you probably don’t think about unless you have to. After all, if you’re able-bodied, you can park in a smaller spot toward the back of the lot and walk farther, even though the time lost can be annoying. But what is a minor inconvenience for many able-bodied people can be a more difficult issue for people who use wheelchairs.
That’s why disabled parking access is such a hot-button topic. We take accessible parking rights very seriously and have created this guide for people with and without disabilities:
What is handicap parking?
Handicap parking, also referred to disabled parking, disability parking, or accessible parking, is any parking spot that is reserved for people with disabilities. The spots with a blue and white sign with a person in a wheelchair are reserved for people who are disabled in some way and who have a disabled parking placard in their vehicle.
But did you know there are two types of handicap parking spaces?
Standard Handicap Parking Spaces
These spaces are the most common type of handicap parking space. They have the white wheelchair user on a blue background on the ground, on a sign in front of the space, or both.
Handicap Parking Spaces for Accessible Vans
The standard spaces can fit cars and SUVs, but someone with an accessible van with a side-entry ramp will need a van-accessible space. These spaces have white diagonal lines on one or both sides of the space.
Who can use handicap parking?
Handicap parking is expressly designated for individuals who have received a handicap parking placard or special license plates from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The placard and plates show the white and blue wheelchair user, which is known as the International Symbol of Access. To get one of these handicap parking permits, the individual must prove to the DMV that they have a disability or health issue that hinders their mobility. This is often accomplished through documentation from a doctor, nurse practitioner, or other medical professional.
Individuals with a temporary disability, like people with leg injuries, cancer patients, or pregnant women on modified bed rest, for instance, can often get a temporary placard.
Handicap Parking Etiquette
While it makes sense that you may not have thought of the reasons that accessible parking is so important for persons with disabilities before, that still doesn’t excuse poor parking etiquette! In order to be as respectful of others’ needs as possible, follow these etiquette tips as you’re circling the parking lot.
1. Never park in a handicap parking spot if you do not have a handicap parking permit.
Even if you’re “only going to be a minute,” the time that you save by parking 10 yards closer to the store can be a real detriment to the lives of individuals with disabilities. Additionally, you can be issued fines or even jail time if you prevent disability access by parking in these spots.
2. Do not park in the striped access aisles.
Whether or not you have a placard, parking in the space painted in diagonal lines prevents individuals who require side-entry from using the spot at all.
3. If you have a disability parking permit, choose the appropriate space for your needs.
If you have a disability parking placard, you are allowed to park in any accessible parking spot; however, it’s courteous to save the larger van spots for those with side-entry wheelchair-accessible vans, if possible.
4. Don’t lend your handicap parking placard to anyone else.
This is considered abuse of the handicap parking permit. If you are riding in a car with a friend or family member who is driving, you can bring your placard to hang from their rearview mirror as you will still require the spot. But if you are not in the car, do not share your placard with any non-disabled friends or family members. This can result in fines for both you and the driver and you may even have your placard and handicap parking privileges revoked.
5. Don’t judge other people.
This can be a hard one for individuals with and without disabilities. Disabled parking access is not just for people who use wheelchairs (though again, the van spaces should be saved for them). Disabled parking placards are also issued to people with orthopedic conditions, lung disease, portable oxygen, and other conditions that hinder mobility. Some illnesses and conditions are “invisible,” so unless you are completely certain the person is abusing the space, don’t judge!
Reporting Handicap Parking Abuse
Abuse of accessible parking affects people’s lives more than you likely realize. Just finding a space with enough room to get a wheelchair or walker out of the car (and back in!) can be difficult in a crowded lot. Add to that the frustration of seeing someone unnecessarily using a van-accessible spot when a person with a disability needs a side-entry ramp to get in and out of a vehicle and you can probably see why abuse of parking privileges is such an issue.
While there are many state laws about accessible parking that lead to fines of hundreds or even thousands of dollars and sometimes jail time, that still isn’t enough to deter some people.
It’s not recommended that you personally confront anyone who you see parking in a spot without a disabled parking placard. If they’re the type of person to ignore this law, they might react badly to you addressing it with them. Instead, focus on reporting and education.
The Coal Harbour Group developed the Parking Mobility app, which allows you to submit a report about parking abuse. By sharing the vehicle’s information and license plate number, the company can issue a ticket through the city in which you live. Once the ticket is issued, the offender has the option to participate in an education program that teaches them the laws about accessible parking and why preventing abuse of these parking spaces is so important. The app claims to have a five-year history of zero repeat offenders, and we hope to see it implemented in more cities around the country.