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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Have we Always had Handicapped Parking Spaces?

Published August 4, 2014 9:21 AM by Debra Karplus
A friend with a newly acquired disability was waiting for me to pick him up. In his hand was a handicapped parking tag to hang on my car's inside mirror so that we could park in a handicapped parking spot. It hadn't occurred to me that I was allowed to legally use a handicapped spot if my passenger had a disability. I hadn't given much thought to handicapped parking spots other than to avoid using one.

The 1960s, when much civil rights legislation emerged, marked the first use of designated handicapped parking spaces. More attention was given to the needs of persons with disabilities, during this era. Many of these issues are practices that we OTs, had promoted for years.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandated easily accessibly handicapped parking spots.

The ADA, signed into law in 1991, granted many of the rights and regulations practiced today, for people with disabilities. The ADA set guidelines, but required states to enforce specific laws pertinent to handicapped parking.

The ADA requires one handicapped parking space per twenty-five regular spots, and one van spot per five hundred parking spaces. These must be easily accessible. An internationally-recognized sign marking these spots must be visible and posted high enough for all drivers to see.  Handicapped parking spaces for cars must be sixty inches wide. Van spaces need to be ninety-six inches wide and allow ninety-eight inches in height.

Individual states define disability and enforce handicapped parking.

What is a disability?  hat's become an increasingly difficult question to answer. Some disabilities are permanent, others are temporary.  Obesity, depression, pregnancy, fractured ankle, coronary obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), cancer, diabetes are conditions that can impede a person's overall functioning, but wouldn't necessarily interfere with the ability to operate a motorized vehicle such as a car or van or to ambulate to and from a regular parking space.

Each state manages handicapped parking in similar but distinctly different ways. Most states, as part of the application procedure for receiving handicapped parking user status, require a physician's written certification that a person does in fact have a condition that would require handicapped parking whether they are the driver of the passenger in a vehicle.

The web site for the state of Pennsylvania, for example, provides very detailed and specific handicapped parking information via their Department of Driver and Vehicle Services. Driver Services in Illinois are managed by the office of the Illinois Secretary of State.

If you do not have a handicapped parking placard, tag or sticker, you don't want to park in a handicapped space, even if you cannot find any other parking. Fines in Illinois are two hundred fifty dollars; California penalties may be closer to one thousand dollars.  And if someone abuses the privilege of handicapped parking such as using the tag when no handicapped person is in the vehicle, they might get stuck with a twenty-five thousand dollar fine.

Handicapped parking privileges provide some of the most beneficial components of the ADA.


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