Are Disabled Parking Laws the Same State-to-State?

Dr Handicap - handicap parking sign

Handicap parking is a lifeline for patients with disabilities. It enables people with physical or mental difficulties to live their lives to the fullest, without needing to worry about the hassle of getting around their town or city. For those of us who aren’t disabled, we usually take disabled parking spaces for granted; they are simply part of the scenery, and as we drive around looking for a space, we think nothing of them. For those citizens who use them, however, they can mean so much more, and are usually crucial for disabled patients to live their day-to-day lives. But there are a lot of cities in America; so when it comes to other states, are disabled parking laws the same the whole country over?

Largely, the answer is yes. The disabled parking laws look very similar or even identical in all 50 states in the U.S.; in fact, disabled parking laws are pretty uniform the whole world over, meaning a person carrying a valid permit visiting the U.S. from Europe could apply for a temporary U.S. permit for a small fee, on the basis of their European-issued one. The common symbol for disabled parking, recognized the world over, is the white wheelchair symbol on the blue background. This is standard for the majority of countries in the world, and is certainly applicable in every state in America. Wherever you see this logo, rest assured that the space is reserved solely for people with disabilities, and if you hold a valid, U.S.-issued permit, you’re free to use it.

In the United States, disabled parking spaces are mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA) guidelines. This important piece of legislation was introduced in 1990, and is a civil rights law designed to protect those with disabilities by making discrimination against them illegal. Handicapped and disabled parking is just one of the areas the ADA legislates; it covers a number of important issues for all kinds of disabled citizens, including both the physically and mentally disabled. It is this law that sets down the country-wide structure for disabled parking regulations. The ADA states that “accessible parking spaces should be at least 96 inches (2440 mm) wide. Parking access aisles shall be part of an accessible route to the building or facility entrance.” These are the guidelines for all 50 states in the U.S.

The states also all agree that a disabled parking permit needs to be very visible so there’s no confusion; they should be hung prominently from the rear-view mirror, and of course be genuine and in-date. It is possible to move your placard from one vehicle to another, as they are technically the property of the person, not the vehicle. However, the disabled person who was issued the plates must also be traveling in the vehicle. In any state, it is an offence to utilize a placard without its owner being present. Even if the person using the permit is also disabled, it’s still not permissible by law. The stated owner has to be in the vehicle to park in the designated spaces.

Dr Handicap - elderly disabled parking

Despite this harmony on procedure, when it comes to qualifying conditions, the states differ wildly. This is where each individual will have to check with their medical professional to see whether they qualify for a disabled parking permit; it will totally depend on the state they’re living in. Wheelchair users will obviously qualify wherever they live, and there are more than a few disabilities that every state recognizes. However, there are some where they differ. When it comes to blindness, for example, about half (26) states qualify blindness as a disability and will issue a parking permit accordingly; the other 24 do not. Four states recognize deafness as a disability, and two states, New York and Virginia, include mental illness as a qualifying condition.

However, just because your permit was issued in a state that recognizes blindness as a disability, that doesn’t mean you can’t avail of disabled parking in the states that don’t. Disabled parking permits, once issued, are honored in all states, and you shouldn’t have any trouble driving around the country and using the designated spaces. If you happen to forget your disabled parking permit and are out of state, you can usually visit the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles office and request a temporary permit. To do this, however, you’ll need some form of doctor’s letter or a certification of your disability, so all things considered, it’s best to think of your disabled parking permit like your passport – whenever you’re going on a journey, always remember to keep it with you!