Placard or Plates: Which is the Optimum Disabled Parking Marker?

Dr. Handicap - placard in car window

Most people across the world know the distinctive handicap sign: it’s the same in every country. Known as the International Symbol of Access (or ISA for short), it consists of a white stylized image of a person in a wheelchair overlaid on a blue background. We’re so used to seeing this image everywhere that we recognize it instinctively, but the most common place we notice it is of course in the parking lot. For those who are able-bodied, it might just seem like part of the scenery; but for those experiencing a range of debilitating physical and mental disabilities, these parking spaces can be a lifeline. Disabled drivers identify themselves with either placards or license plates, but what’s the difference between the two, and which one is the optimum disabled parking marker?

Disabilities can come in many different sizes and shapes; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. The range of disorders and their individual nuances are far too complex. However, there is a form of blanket protection for people with disabilities, known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA for short). This federal legislation protects anyone with a physical or mental disability from being discriminated against – like they might be in cases of renting accommodation, for instance. When it comes to disabled parking, unfortunately there is no federal law, and each state decides its own rules in relation to parking, permits, and spaces.

Dr. Handicap - parking sign

Happily, these laws largely align, and the good news for disabled drivers and/or their minders is that a permit issued in a specific state is valid in all other states, and in most countries beyond the U.S. too. The largest discrepancies between states are usually found in the qualifying conditions that entitle people to utilize a disabled parking permit. Some states are more limited on their lists than others are, and their qualifiers appear more restrictive.

Of course, all states make allowances for people with major disabilities, and the general rule is that people who can’t walk for more than 100 feet without requiring assistance are fully eligible across the board. Mental disabilities are a controversial topic when it comes to disabled parking; no doubt they have the potential to be a crippling disorder, but many states have not yet accepted them into their legislation. New York is currently the forerunner in this field, and has introduced legislation based around mental disabilities into their disabled parking laws.

When a patient is applying for a permit, they can opt for a placard or a license plate. At the outset, the difference between the two comes down to what kind of disability the patient has. A person with a permanent disability can apply for either a placard or license plates, depending on which they want. Permanent disabilities are, as the name suggests, disabilities that won’t be cured, or have remained with the patient for life – for example, degenerative muscle diseases or missing limbs. In the case of temporary disabilities, a patient may only apply for a placard. Some examples of disabilities that are classed as temporary are late-stage pregnancies or broken limbs.

Dr. Handicap - parking permit

Placards are obviously easier to move around than license plates, and so have the advantage of being transferrable between different vehicles. Despite this, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s an offense to use a disabled parking placard without the person named in the permit being present. This is applicable even if the person regularly travels in a particular vehicle but doesn’t happen to be present at this particular time. This is also obviously the case with license plates; under any circumstances, the named patient needs to be present in order to avail of disabled parking spaces.

The advantage of license plates is, of course, that you can’t easily lose them. This makes them a great choice if the patient has one designated vehicle that they know they’re going to be traveling in a lot, either as a driver or passenger. Disabled parking plates are ideal for patients who require a specially modified vehicle, as you can rest easy knowing that the plates will always be securely attached to the back. Also, if you happen to be in the habit of losing things, disabled parking plates might just be the choice for you!

Placards can either hang from the rear-view mirror or be displayed on the dashboard. It can sometimes be quite easy if you’re switching vehicles a lot to forget them, or leave them in the car you were last traveling in, especially if your family has more than one vehicle. Remember, it’s an offence to park in a disabled spot without the placard, even if you have a visible disability! Also, keep in mind that both placards and plates have to be renewed every couple of years or so. States have different laws on that too, so remember to check in with your local Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure you have plenty of time.