Most organizations, government agencies, establishments and businesses with parking structures ensure individuals with disabilities have accessible parking spaces — also known as handicap parking — that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
To use these spaces, an individual with a qualifying condition must secure an accessible parking permit. Laws and requirements may differ across the United States. Learn more about the types, appropriate uses and application process to help you get started.
How Handicap Parking Permits Work
Accessible parking spaces are clearly identified and allotted slots in parking lots or garages with specific features to make it easier for users to access certain services or goods. Under the ADA, these spaces must have access aisles and should be on the shortest accessible route.
These parking spaces are only for people with accessible parking permits, such as plastic tags, placards or special accessible license plates. The pass must be in a visible position. It’s illegal for any person with no accessible parking permit to use any of these dedicated parking spaces. Failure to comply may result in a penalty.
Aside from easy access to the entrance, having an accessible parking permit helps you enjoy additional privileges like free parking and no time limit.
Types of Handicap Parking Permits
There are two general types of permits based on health conditions: temporary or permanent placards. There are also other types, such as organization placards for representatives of certain institutions. Depending on the state, there may also be other types of passes.
Types of Placards
For people with temporary conditions that limit their mobility or impair their walking ability. It’s typically red and is valid for six months or up to the date noted by the doctor. The permit features an identification number, expiration date and hologram or image that proves authenticity.
As the name suggests, these permits are for people with permanent disabilities. They’re commonly blue, have a hologram or symbol indicating authenticity and include an identification number. Depending on the state, permanent placards may expire after several years. Some states, however, provide permits with no expiration dates.
Also known as institutional placards, these permits are issued to nonprofit organizations transporting people with disabilities. In most cases, these are free and are valid for up to five years. Organization placards usually have identification numbers and expiration dates. They’re typically green.
Qualifying Conditions for an Accessible Parking Permit
Qualifying conditions may vary from state to state. People with disabilities, especially those with conditions that impair mobility like vision problems, necessary use of a wheelchair and loss of legs or hands, are typically qualified. Chronic illnesses like lung diseases and heart diseases are also often included.
When obtaining an accessible parking permit, you must get a certification from a healthcare professional. This is to verify and document your condition.
Health conditions commonly qualifying a person for accessible parking privileges include the chronic illnesses mentioned above and loss of mobility.
Inability to move without a cane, prosthetic device, brace, wheelchair or any similar device.
Limited use of arms
Limited or no use of one or both arms, whether due to deformity, amputation, spasms or joint issues.
Limited vision, low vision or partial sightedness. Specific visual acuity may vary per state.
Certain conditions that may limit a person’s ability to do physical activities, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.
Lung disease or pulmonary disorders
Medical issues that make it challenging to walk long distances or require portable oxygen, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and emphysema.
Invisible Disabilities Eligible for a Permit
Accessible parking permits aren’t only for people with visible disabilities. There are various reasons a person may qualify for a disabled parking pass.
People with severe neurological conditions may qualify, primarily if the disease affects their mobility.
Chronic inflammatory diseases
These include inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, lupus and gout, which may lead to reduced mobility.
Those who have undergone organ transplants may qualify for disability passes for a short period, usually up to 12 months.
People getting cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy, may be eligible to get a temporary placard during their treatment.
Individuals suffering from chronic pain, including those causing muscle stiffness and persistent back pain, may qualify for accessible parking permits.
How to Get an Accessible Parking Permit
Although the process and requirements to obtain an accessible parking permit may vary per state, there are general steps you can take. You can start by checking with your primary healthcare provider and visiting your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Depending on where you reside, you may be able to submit your application online, by mail or in person. Application fees may differ depending on the type of permit.
Contact your primary healthcare provider
The first thing you need to do is determine if you’re eligible for an accessible parking permit. Ask your primary healthcare provider about your health condition.
Visit your state’s DMV
Check qualifying conditions, requirements and corresponding fees. You can contact your DMV or visit their website.
Fill out the application form
Secure a copy of the application form and complete it. You may get this online or by visiting your state DMV’s office.
Ask for certification
You may need a physician’s note to verify your condition.
Review the form. Then, submit it online, by mail or in person. Pay the corresponding fees.
Accessible Parking Resources by State
Accessible parking permit rules are state-specific. That means the qualifying conditions, application process, fees and requirements depend on your location.
Find your state below and click on the agency website to learn more.
Unless you have a disabled parking pass without an expiration date, you’re required to renew your permit after a certain period. Temporary placards typically expire after a few months. Meanwhile, permanent placards often last for years. Specific rules also depend on your state.
For lost, damaged or stolen permits, contact your state DMV as soon as possible. Check the replacement process and apply. You may need to provide your personal contact information, driver’s license number, vehicle ID number and the reason behind the replacement. Replacement may also come with fees. If you think your permit has been stolen, ask your DMV if you need to file a police report.
How to Use Disability Parking Privileges
Having an accessible parking permit comes with privileges. But there are also responsibilities. You must comply with your state’s disability parking laws.
For instance, you must put your placard in a visible location. The permit is also only to be used by the owner. Misuse is illegal and may result in penalties, such as fines, community service or cancellation of the permit.
Appropriate Use of Accessible Parking Permits and Spaces
Individuals with accessible parking permits must observe disabled parking etiquette. Use the correct parking space based on your permit and condition. You should also follow the rules on the appropriate use of your pass.
The permit is only for the owner
Only the person for which the permit has been issued can use the accessible parking permit.
The permit is not transferrable
The owner of the permit can’t lend it to other people. The permit can’t also be tampered with, altered or reproduced.
The permit is for qualified individuals
Only people with qualifying disabilities or motor vehicles can obtain a permit.
The permit can only be used in parking spaces
You can only use your permit when your vehicle is parked in a designated accessible parking space.
The permit must be visible
If your permit is in the form of a plastic tag or placard, ensure it’s always visible.
Misuse and Penalties of Disabled Placards
Accessible parking permits help make it easier for people with disabilities or conditions to access establishments. However, some don’t use it appropriately.
For example, some permit holders allow others to use their parking privileges. Others display canceled, revoked or expired placards. And, members of the general public may also attempt to park in designated spaces.
Misuse of an accessible parking placard is a serious offense. Depending on the state, punishment may include fines and community service. The state may also cancel your permit. Some states may consider it a misdemeanor and include county jail time as a penalty.
Traveling Out of State Using an Accessible Permit
Accessible parking license plates are usually valid in all states. However, placards are a different story. For instance, California requires nonresidents to secure a travel parking placard. This is valid for 90 days.
The same rules may apply to visitors from other countries. While some states may recognize visitors' legitimate permits, others may require special placards to utilize parking spaces.
To avoid any issues when traveling using an accessible parking permit, research the state you plan on visiting. Check the state’s DMVs for requirements.
Research before you go
If you plan to go on a trip, it’s best to research the area. Check their disabled parking rules. See if you need a special placard to access designated parking spaces.
Check with the DMV
Depending on the state, additional requirements may exist for people who want to use accessible parking spaces. Check with the local DMV how you can apply for a special permit and ask about the fees.
Remember parking rules
Remember that the same restrictions on using accessible parking permits apply even in other states.
Expert Insight on Accessible Parking Permits
Before applying for an accessible parking permit, it’s important to know how it works and the responsibilities that come with it. MoneyGeek asked some industry experts to provide insights to help you better understand accessible parking permits.
- What are the most common challenges faced by drivers with disabilities? How can they overcome these?
- What resources or tools can you share with readers who want to learn more about accessible parking permits and the rights of drivers with disabilities?
- What legal actions can you take if you experience discrimination when obtaining an accessible (handicap) parking permit?
- What travel essentials or tips can you share to help drivers with disabilities ensure safer trips?
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Many people with disabilities require modifications in their home or vehicle to address accessibility issues. The right resources can help find effective solutions, provide information about your rights and access aid.
- AARP: Find driver safety resources and courses for drivers aged 50 or older.
- ALS Association: Access materials and websites with information on various aids in daily living, including mobility systems and devices.
- American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA): Learn about the role of occupational therapy in driving and mobility. Read research studies on driver rehabilitation.
- American Safety Council: Access online training solutions, including driver safety education.
- National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC): This technical assistance center provides information on transportation options for aging individuals and people with disabilities.
- National Center for Mobilinagement (NCMM): This is a national technical assistance center promotes enhanced transportation options for older adults, low-income families and people with disabilities.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Find out how to turn your car into an adapted motor vehicle for people with disabilities. Check out various resources that can help you with your vehicle modifications.
- National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA): This nonprofit trade association provides resources that can help with automobility solutions for people with disabilities or their caregivers. Use its online tool to locate a dealer offering mobility equipment. Find
- Paralyzed Veterans of America: Find resources for accessible travel for people with disabilities. Learn about the rights of paralyzed veterans.
- Shepherd Center: This nonprofit rehabilitation center offers medical treatments and rehabilitation programs. They also help evaluate and understand available transportation options for people with mobility problems.
- The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED): The ADED offers driver rehabilitation education programs. Interested drivers may find certified driver rehabilitation specialists and mobility equipment dealers using the ADED’s online search tool.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Disability Impacts All of Us." Accessed April 18, 2023.
- State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. "Disabled Person Parking Placards & Plates." Accessed April 19, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. "Accessible Parking Space." Accessed April 18, 2023.