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What Are the Legal Requirements for a Handicap Parking Space?

Dr Handicap - disabled parking permit renewal

If you have a disability or mobility issues, you can acquire a handicap parking placard or plate that allows you to park in designated handicap parking spaces. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there are minimum standards that must be legally met for disabled parking. Here’s what you need to know about those federal guidelines that help make getting around a little easier those with disabilities.

What Are The Legal Requirements For A Handicap Parking Space?

The ADA, combined with state laws, makes it a requirement for public agencies and private businesses to have a minimum number of disabled parking places available. These spaces must be of a minimum size and also have proper signage that makes them easy to spot.

Only people with a handicap parking permit , placard, or plate issued by the state in which they live can use handicap parking. Lots built before 2010 may have slightly different standards for the number of spaces than those created after 2010, when the ADA updated guidelines.

How Many Disabled Parking Spots Are Required In A Parking Lot?

The ADA sets standards for parking lots and requires a minimum number of disabled parking spots, dependent on the size of the parking lot. These ADA parking space requirements in general are:

  • Parking lots with 1 to 25 spaces: 1 designated handicap parking spot
  • Parking lots with 26 to 50 spaces: 2 designated handicap parking spots
  • Parking lots with 51 to 75 spaces: 3 designated handicap parking spots

For every 25 spots in a parking lot, the number of required designated parking spots is increased by one. So, a parking lot with 150 spaces should have six handicap parking spots available. When you get up to parking lots with up to 500 spaces, nine handicap parking spots must be available, along with two spaces specifically for vans.

A parking lot with over 1,000 parking spaces must have 20 handicap accessible parking spots, along with one for every 100 spots over 1000. And for every six handicap parking spaces in a parking lot, there must be at least one that is accessible to a van.

Medical facilities have slightly different standards – 20% of their parking lots must be designated as handicap accessible.

Dr Handicap - disability

Image by Yomex Owo on Unsplash: Does there have to be a sign for handicap parking? Yes!

What Makes A Legal Handicap Parking Space?

Handicap parking spaces must be in a location in a parking lot that provides the most accessible route to the entrance of the building. They must also be close to the entrance to make the distance required to travel from the vehicle to the doors the shortest route possible.

Handicap parking spots also must be of a certain size – a minimum of eight feet wide, with an aisle space adjacent to them that is also a minimum of five feet wide. A handicap parking space for a van must be at least 11 feet wide, and there must be an accessible path from the aisle to the accessible entrance of the building.

Does There Have To Be A Sign For Handicap Parking?

The ADA parking space requirements also have specifics for parking signs in relation to disabled parking spots. All spots must be properly designated with the “International Symbol of Access” – the standard white-and-blue image of a person in a wheelchair you’re likely used to seeing.

The only exception to signage rules under the ADA is for lots with four or fewer parking spaces, or residential lots where parking lots are assigned to specific individuals. In these places, handicap signs are not required.

How High Does A Handicap Sign Have To Be?

Signs must also be at least five feet off the ground, and if meant to denote a van-accessible space, this must be indicated on the sign. Access aisles are to be marked with diagonal lines.

Dr. Handicap - handicap parking lot view

Image by Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash: What is the length of a disabled parking spot? There is a standard everyone must adhere to.

Handicap Parking Spot Penalties

The ADA is enforced by the Department of Justice. That means that charges can be brought against any person or business that doesn’t comply with the requirements for handicap parking spots. This can result in fines up to $150,000, depending on how many times the individual has violated the rules set forth by the ADA. In some states, if spaces are not properly provided, a misdemeanor crime can be charged.

For individuals who park in handicap parking spaces without a proper license plate or placard, a civil infraction may be issued. That may mean a parking ticket or even being towed from the spot, depending on where it takes place.

There’s a lot to know about the legal requirements for handicap parking, but once you know the rules, they’re easy to remember!

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Parking in spaces reserved for persons with disabilities

  • Ashley T. Davis

The holiday shopping season is upon us.  Parking lots at the malls, shopping centers, and groceries stores are filled to capacity.  You have circled the parking lot three times.  Nothing is open.  You see an available parking space, but it is reserved for persons with disabilities.  You only need to run into the store for a few minutes.  It’s just this one time.  You’ll be right back.  Can you park there?

Unless you have and need a disabled parking license plate or placard, the answer is no.

Why?  Because persons with disabilities need those spaces.

In order for an individual to obtain a disabled license plate or placard, a doctor or other medical professional must certify that the individual has a temporary or permanent disability that limits or impairs the person’s ability to walk, or that creates a concern for the person’s safety while walking. [1]   Disabled license plates and placards are restricted to individuals who:

  • Cannot walk 200 feet without stopping to rest;
  • Cannot walk without a brace, cane, crutch, another person, prosthetic device, wheelchair, or other assistive device;
  • Suffer from severe lung disease;
  • Use portable oxygen;
  • Have a serious cardiac condition;
  • Have an arthritic, neurological, orthopedic condition, or other debilitating condition that severely limits or impairs the ability to walk;
  • Have been diagnosed with a mental or developmental amentia or delay that impairs judgment such as an autism spectrum disorder;
  • Have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia;
  • Are legally blind or deaf; or
  • Have some other condition that, in the view of a licensed physician creates a safety concern while walking because of impaired judgment or other physical, developmental, or mental limitation.

Reserved parking spaces are more than a mere convenience for people with disabilities.  They are essential to their safety and well-being, and are necessary to protect them from further injury and harm.

Many disabled individuals experience pain and are unsteady on their feet when they walk.  For them, the ability to park in a space that is located closer to the front door of the building can make all the difference between being able to get out of their vehicle and go into the building, or having to give up, go home, and try another day.  For individuals who are in a wheelchair, having the extra space that a disabled parking space provides is essential in order for them to maneuver in and out of their vehicle safely – or at all.  Regular parking spaces simply do not have enough space for wheelchairs and other assistive devices.

The reality is that taking a parking spot from a person with a disability, even if it is just for a few minutes, can prevent that person from being able to get in and out of their vehicle, run their errands, go to the store, or see a movie with friends or family members who have traveled from near and far to be with them.  This is particularly devastating when one considers that for many disabled individuals, the process of getting dressed and ready to go out can be difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming.  Simply stated, parking in a disabled parking space – even for just a few minutes – can prevent a handicapped person, and their loved ones, from having an outing that they have been planning and looking forward to for a long time.

What are the penalties for parking in a reserved space without authorization?

Parking in a reserved space without authorization can result in a parking ticket, imposition of a fine up to $500 per offense, and by having the vehicle towed from the property and impounded. Localities are permitted to establish their own fines for unauthorized parking in reserved spaces.  For example, violators in Henrico County , Spotsylvania County and Charlottesville can be fined up to $500 per offense.Other localities that have established their own fines include the City of Richmond ($200), Hanover County ($150), Petersburg ($150), Chesterfield County ($100), and Stafford County ($100).

What about the striped area next to a parking space reserved for persons with disabilities?

The striped area adjacent to reserved parking space is called the striped access aisle.  In 2019, the General Assembly enacted legislation that makes it illegal to park in the striped access aisle , as well.

What are the penalties for falsifying a disabled parking placard?

Falsifying a disabled parking placard can result in more serious consequences.  It is a Class II misdemeanor that is punishable by fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

So, if you are tempted to park in a space that is reserved for disabled persons, please don’t.  Leave those spaces for individuals who need them.  It is the right thing to do, and it is what law requires.

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  • A Disabled American's Guide to Handicap Parking Rules

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Have you ever driven around a packed parking lot and wondered if you could slip into a handicapped spot, even just for a few minutes? If you don't have a disability, the answer is always 'no'. 

For the 14% of  Americans with a disability  affecting their mobility, access to handicapped parking has a significant impact on their daily lives. While those with a disability are likely to be familiar with handicap parking rules, it is important for the general population to understand and follow the rules for handicap parking spaces too. 

Different Types of Handicap Parking Spaces 

Everyone has seen the designated handicap parking spaces in public parking lots. Did you know that there are two different types of handicap parking spaces though? Each is painted differently to designate their intended purpose. 

Standard Handicap Parking Spaces

These parking spots have a white wheelchair user painted over a blue background. Sometimes there is a metal sign with the same logo posted in front of the space as well or instead. 

Van-Accessible Handicap Parking Spaces

Wheelchair accessible vehicles  require larger parking space to accommodate side-entry or rear-entry ramps. 

The parking spots for such vehicles are identified by white diagonal lines painted across one or both sides of the space. 

Handicap Parking Rules and Etiquette

There are specific regulations for anyone who holds a handicap parking permit, placard, or license plate. For everyone else, it is important to also respect the needs of others by following the rules and extending certain courtesies. 

If You DO Have a Handicap Parking Permit

If you hold a handicap parking permit, it is valid for any vehicle of which you are either a driver or a passenger. It does not matter who owns the vehicle as long as the permit-holder is traveling in it. 

You must never loan out your handicap parking permit or placard to others. This is misuse and there is the potential for consequences, including fines or cancellation of the permit.

Sometimes there are free parking exceptions on the street or in parking garages. Handicap parking meter rules and residential parking rules vary by city and state. Check with your locality for the  specific regulations  where you live.  

In any case, you must always display your permit in a visible location. 

If You DO NOT Have a Handicap Parking Permit

First and foremost, NEVER park in a handicap parking space if you or your passenger do not hold a permit. If parking adjacent to a handicap space, be sure you do not obstruct the striped aisles. Otherwise, those required side-entry or exit cannot use the space.  

Never judge others using a handicap parking space, even if they don't 'look' disabled. Not all disabilities are external. Mobility is also impeded by things such as lung, respiratory, and vision issues. 

Mutual Respect Keeps Everyone Happy

Understanding handicap parking rules is especially important in the car-centric culture of the United States regardless if you do or do not hold a handicap parking permit.

If you or a loved one is looking for mobility solutions, reach out to us and see how we can help! 

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  • 7 of the Best Wheelchair Accessible Colleges
  • 7 Ways to Ease Anxiety in Schools
  • ADA Compliance in Schools & Education
  • ADA Parking Requirements
  • ADA vs. Section 504


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  • I have a resident that has requested a handicap parking sign in front of her apartment.
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