Is Allowed To Park In those Disabled Parking Spaces, Anyway?
Sherri L. Connell, BA
Copyright © 1997, Revised 2002
Invisible Disabilities Advocate
They Don't LOOK Disabled!
Have you ever
seen someone get out of a car parked in a space reserved for the
disabled, who did not LOOK disabled? Did it make you very uncomfortable
or even upset? Did you let them know of your disapproval by giving
them a dirty look or yelling something at them?
are not alone. Many people are very disturbed by the sight of
a seemingly mobile person stealing the space of someone who is
truly in need of it. After all, we want to protect the rights
of people for whom these spaces are reserved!
wanting to help those who deserve these parking spaces, we actually
may be hurting someone who does have a legal right and a legitimate
need to park there. How can this be true, you ask? Isnt
it obvious who is and who is not disabled? The answer is... NO.
for the general accessible parking spaces include those using
chairs, walkers, crutches and canes, as well as some whose impairments
are not always so obvious to the onlooker. I refer to these impairments
which cause disabilities that are not so apparent from the outside,
as "invisible disabilities."
thousands of people who are forced to contend with serious illnesses,
injuries and circumstances, which have left them with mountains
to climb every time they take a step. Most people do not realize
that a person can have hindrances that come from the inside and
may not even be visible on the outside. Their restrictions may
not be conspicuous at a glance, but their pain, limitations and
inability to function normally is all very debilitating in reality.
may seem easy to you, may seem like a 14,000 foot hurdle to them.
Being able to park close to the entrance of a building when they
need to, allows them to run an errand they otherwise would not
have been able to conquer. Many even collapse in stores, become
very dizzy and weak or even black-out..
Here are just
a few invisible reasons a person may be able to park in the accessible
Back Injury, Brain Injury, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis,
Diabetes, Heart Condition, Lupus, Lyme Disease, Muscular Disorders,
Multiple Sclerosis, Neurological Disorders, Osteoporosis, Organ
Transplant, Oxygen Impairment, Parkinsons Disease, Difficult
Pregnancy, Prosthetic, Seizure Disorder, Spinal Disorders, Surgery
and several others.
Wow! So, They
Really Need It?
the shortened distance from the parking lot allows them to: walk
into a building to use an electric cart or wheelchair; avoid dangerous
exposure to heat, cold and exhaust fumes; use their energy for
shopping; get back to their car when they have used up all of
their energy inside; or simply to remember where they parked.
As you can
imagine, it is very uncomfortable when people stare, because they
think you do not look like you need to park in a reserved parking
space. As a result, many people with these circumstances are left
feeling afraid to use the very spaces that were intended to help
them, even when they need it!
most with invisible disabilities genuinely want to leave these
spaces open for others if possible. Most will: not park in a space
that is intended for wheelchairs and scooters; try to park somewhere
else if there are not several spaces left for those who may need
one; just have someone drop them at the door; or not park in an
accessible space at all on a "better" or "good"
What we usually
do not realize, is that most people with illnesses and injuries
would jump at the chance to trade their plates and placards in
for the ability to walk from the farthest parking space! To those
who are healthy and able to walk, they see these spaces as a bonus
or luxury! But, for those who are sick or in pain, it is just
a reminder of what they have lost. After all, these spaces do
not make life easy, they make it possible.
So, How Do
You Know If They Should Be Parking There?
First of all,
no person has the right to park in the access isles, which are
placed next to both accessible and van accessible spaces. These
are the striped areas next to the parking places and are designed
to help those maneuver themselves and their assistive devices
out of the car door. When someone fills up these isles, a person
could get blocked in or out of their vehicle.
are spots strictly set aside for those using wheelchairs or motor
scooters. Not every parking lot has them, but for those that do,
they are clearly marked, "Van Accessible." These spaces
are 96" wide, with a stripped 96" space to the side,
allowing the person to maneuver their chair or scooter out with
a lift or ramp. It is not illegal for someone without a chair
to park in a van accessible space, but it should be left open
for those with the specific need.
On the other
hand, the rest of the reserved spaces are properly referred to
as "accessible parking spaces." They are marked with
a sign that often has a logo of a wheelchair. However, this does
not mean that it is only for those using chairs. This logo is
the universal and international symbol for "disability"
of the accessible spaces is to assist those with all types of
disabilities and disabling conditions. For those with limitations,
the spots help to make it possible for the visitor to shop and
How do you
know who can park in an accessible space and who cannot? Look
for a temporary or permanent placard in the front window or a
disabled license plate. These items are received through an application
form in which a patients doctor must fill out for them,
through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The DMV has
specific guidelines and requirements the person must meet in order
to receive a placard or license plate. They take into consideration
the impairments due to the illness or injury, as well as the implications
and aggravations of symptoms and limitations. Therefore, if a
person is issued a license and is displaying it, then they have
the LEGAL, MEDICAL RIGHT TO PARK THERE.
A License To Park There?
parks in a space reserved for those with accessibility needs,
must display their placard or license or they can be fined. You
can call the sheriffs department of that county if it is
not on private property; however, the vehicle must be illegally
parked when the officer arrives (do not call 911!). Or, you can
notify a security guard to ticket them or the store manager to
page the owner by license plate number and vehicle description.
about those people who use their relatives placard, when
their relative is not even with them? Well, this is definitely
immoral, selfish and disrespectful as well as being illegal; there
is NO excuse of this dishonest behavior. However, unless you know
them and know without a doubt is not their placard, it is in the
best interest of those of us who suffer from invisible disabilities
to just smile and assume they have a right to be there.
spaces are designed to help those in need of them for a number
of reasons. Without these spaces, seemingly simple tasks in life
would be excruciatingly painful, overwhelming, impossible or even
life threatening for thousands of people, whether the disability
is visible or invisible.
is honorable for you to care if these spots are being abused by
those who do not need them. Just remember, as shown in this article,
you cannot be the judge of who deserves to park in the accessible
spaces and who does not, just by looking at them.
if a person is displaying a license to park in an accessible parking
space, try offering a hand, instead of a visual judgment; after
all..."the people you are graciously intending to defend,
may be standing right in front of you!"
article contains excerpts from the booklet
But You LOOK Good: A Guide to Understanding and Encouraging
People with Chronic, Debilitating Illness and Pain!
explains how a person can be damaged by an illness and/or injury
on the inside, but still look fine to others on the
outside. It gives detailed suggestions of what not to say
and explanations as to why. In addition, the booklet provides
many examples of what to say to be an encouragement
and offers practical ways to help.
information and to read more articles written by Sherri, visit
The Invisible Disabilities Advocate at: www.InvisibleDisabilities.com
IDA for permission to distribute or publish this article.