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Handicap Parking Spaces Rules and Requirements

Before I became disabled I never thought much about handicap / accessible parking spots in parking lots or the parking lot striping next to them. I never parked there because I knew it was wrong, but I had no idea how important those handicapped parking spots and the striping next to the parking spots are to the disabled.

I have been a wheelchair user for almost 11 years now. In the beginning, it didn't take long to gain an understanding of how important it is for those accessible parking spaces to be used properly and only by those who legally need them.

Every single time I go out I see vehicles illegally parked in accessible parking spaces; vehicles parked improperly within their accessible parking spot, and small cars parked in van accessible spots. Yeah, there are two different "types" of handicap parking spaces.

Here's some information that will help you gain some clarity about parking in accessible handicap spots and on handicap parking lot striping (the access aisle).

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Can I Use an Accessible Handicap Parking Space?

Let's answer this question right away!

To legally park in an accessible handicap parking space YOU must have a valid state issued handicap parking permit.

You cannot use your mother's handicap parking permit, your father's, uncle's, neighbor's, second cousin's twice removed on your dads side ...

A state handicap parking permit must be issued in your name for you to legally use an accessible handicap parking space.

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These permits come in two varieties:

  • Plastic placard or tag that hangs from the rear view mirror
  • Special handicap license plate

What do Accessible Parking Spaces Look Like?

In the United States accessible parking spots are often painted in blue, white, or yellow. But don't get too hung up on color. As you can see below, they come in a variety of looks and colors. The one thing they all have in common is the universal international symbol of access (the wheelchair symbol).

Handicapped Parking Signs 

Accessible parking spaces have a sign indicating it is a designated handicapped parking space. These signs will have some version of the international symbol of access. Many will also let you know how much the fine is if you park there illegally. 

Two Types of Accessible Parking Spaces

Most accessible parking spots you see are suitable for a car, truck, or van that does not have a side ramp. These are the accessible parking spots you see in the most abundance.

Tucked within these "regular" accessible parking spots may be a very few van accessible spots. These van accessible spots either have a larger parking space or a larger access isle (the hashed out parking lot lines next to the accessible spaces).

Van Accessible Parking Spots 

Van accessible parking spots are most often labeled with an additional sign. This lets you know the parking spot or aisle has extra space to accommodate a van ramp for a wheelchair user. 

The van accessible spots allow enough space on the side of a vehicle for a ramp to lower and a wheelchair user enough space to exit and enter.

"Regular" accessible parking spaces do not allow enough room for a ramp to lower and a wheelchair user to exit / enter.

Out of courtesy for those who NEED a van accessible handicap parking space,

if you don't NEED a van accessible handicap parking space, please don't use one.

There are far fewer van accessible parking spaces than "regular" accessible handicapped parking spaces. When van accessible parking spots are used but not needed, it makes finding a suitable parking space very difficult and unsafe for those with a van that has a ramp.

Why Does it Matter if I Park Within the Lines?

People using accessible handicapped parking spots frequently have to also unload a walker, other walking device, a manual wheelchair, or needing to exit / enter using a ramp that extends out the side of the van.

When a vehicle is parked improperly, even by a little bit, it can have a great impact on a person's ability to successfully and safely exit and enter their vehicle.

This is why it matters if a vehicle is parked properly in an accessible parking space ...

This is me entering my ramp equipped accessible vehicle. My ramp extends 51 inches and my wheelchair measures about 40 inches from front to back.

I need AT LEAST 7.5 feet between the side of my van and the side of the vehicle next to me (a bit extra space is better to allow some maneuver room). Some wheelchairs and scooters are longer and need even more space than I.

If I don't have enough space, I will not be able to exit / enter my vehicle and may scratch the vehicle next to me when trying.

When a vehicle parks on the handicap parking accessible isle it lessens the space for a ramp to lower and a wheelchair user to enter / exit their vehicle.

Here, a wheelchair user cannot access their ramp because the truck severely encroached on the accessible parking access aisle. 

This is an even greater problem when the wheelchair user is also the driver. The driver would be unable to access their van until the other vehicle leaves.

This car likely parked improperly in the handicapped spot after the van had already been there.

When the wheelchair user returns and needs to lower the ramp and enter their vehicle, there will not be enough room.

If the passenger in the car needed room on their side of the vehicle to unload, the driver should have backed into this handicap accessible parking space so they could fit within the parking lines appropriately.

The white car is severely encroaching in the clearly labeled "no parking" access aisle.

If the driver of the white car needed room to unload, they should have backed into the parking space so they could fit within the parking lines appropriately.

If the red car were to leave and a ramp van needed to park, they would be unable to use the spot due to the limited space in the access aisle for a ramp and wheelchair user.

What to do About  Parking Violations

When someone parks illegally in a handicap parking space or blocks accessibility to your vehicle when you are parked in handicap spot, there are a couple (legal) things you can do.

Call the Cops

When a vehicle is parked inappropriately and blocks access to your vehicle, this is a valid reason to call the police. The bad parker might not agree but you have every right to report their parking violation to the police.

If a person does not have a valid handicap parking permit in their name they cannot legally park in a handicap parking spot. Parking illegally in a handicap parking spot is against the law and can come with a hefty fine.

The fine varies by state. Here in Minnesota I usually see it posted that the fine is $200 - $500. That doesn't include all the government administrative fees, so I'm sure the overall cost is significantly more.

Report the Violation with the Parking Mobility App

There is a great free app that was developed by the spinal cord injury community called Parking Mobility that you can use to report abuse of handicap parking spaces.

The app is free and downloadable from both the Google store and the Apple AppStore.

Here are some screen shots of the app from my phone.

Tap the three lines in the upper left corner to bring up a list of options to choose from (screenshot 1).

When you choose New Violation you're given a drop-down menu to indicate the violation type (screenshot 2).

The next step is grabbing a few photos of the violation and in this case indicating the blocking type (I chose the blocking violation type); The map to indicate the violation location; input the license plate number and an additional comments if you have, then hit submit. (Screenshot 3).

It's that simple.

Parking mobility app

If you live in a community whose police department partners with Parking Mobility, a citation will be issued to the owner of the violating vehicle.

If you live in a community that does not yet partner with Parking Mobility, your report of a violation will be gathered and used to educate community leaders about the ever present misuse of accessible handicap parking spots. These violation reports are super-critical to help Parking Mobility gather enough data to influence community leaders and make a change!

If you'd like to volunteer and help Parking Mobility with their efforts to gain more partnerships; spread the word about accessible parking abuse, and further their efforts for our community click HERE.

Be Considerate

Please, be considerate when parking in or next to an accessible handicapped parking space.

Help make someone's day a little bit better by parking properly in accessible parking spots or any parking spot next to an accessible parking space.

You may not need all the space in that access aisle, but the next person parking near you might.

Thank you!

Here's another video that explains it pretty simply -

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  • Mack Marsh says:

    Join the Parking Mobility movement to help fix the badly broken accessible parking systems. Use the App to help build a map of all accessible parking space, suggest where accessible parking is needed and report abuse of spaces. Developed by the SCI community and provided at no cost, Parking Mobility is YOUR program.

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