Here's How to Get a Handicap Parking Pass (Legally)

Life likes to be unpredictable, and that means a lot of injuries can happen at any time. For instance, you could slip and fall in the shower on your birthday and break a few bones in your foot making it difficult to hobble around. Hey, it happens.

Millions of people go to the ER for unintentional, non-fatal injuries every year. Many of those injuries cause temporary disability, but some of them are permanent. Either way, if you’re one of those injured people you could qualify for a handicap parking pass.

We’ve all seen the bright blue handicap parking spots in basically every public parking lot. But do you know how drivers get a pass to park in those spots? Let’s find out!

Disability Parking City-by-City

The first thing you should know is that disability parking (a.k.a. disabled parking or handicap parking) is issued individually by city/county/region like drivers licenses. That means each city has their own regulations, limitations, qualifications and process for handing out handicap placards and license plates.

Handicap Parking: Placards vs. Handicap Parking Plates

Disabled parking permit hanging placard

There are two types of handicap parking passes - placards and plates.

 Handicap Parking Placards 

These are the parking passes you see hanging from the rearview mirror. Some states, like Texas, have different placards in different colors to indicate whether the parking pass is permanent or temporary. A temporary disability parking pass is usually valid for six months or less. But even a permanent placard has to be renewed or it will expire and become invalid.

 Handicap Parking Plates 

A handicap parking plate is issued to someone with a permanent disability. It has the International Symbol of Access (ISA), which looks like a wheelchair. Sometimes, but not always, the license plate features the same bright blue hue of handicap parking spaces.

Getting a Disabled Parking Pass

As mentioned above, disabled parking passes are issued by city/county so the process varies slightly depending on where you live. That said, most areas have fairly similar guidelines:

  •  You must have a medical condition that qualifies as a disability  - This is always the first and most important step. If you don’t have a qualifying visual or mobility impairment the pursuit for a handicap parking pass ends before it begins.
  •  Pick up a disability parking application  - You may be able to download an application online from the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website, but the DMV doesn’t issue parking permits. That’s done at the local level. It may be best to pick up an application at the city or county office that issues the permit. That way you can ask questions before filling it out.
  •  Have a medical professional fill out the disability statement section  - In order to get a handicap parking pass, a medical professional who has treated or examined you must complete the disability statement section of the application.
  •  Fill out the rest of the application  - You can fill out the remaining information on the application. If you have a state-issued drivers license or I.D. card the number will need to be provided. In some states/cities you will have to provide a photocopy of the card. This helps authorities know when and if a placard or plate is being used illegally (see below). If you’re trying to get a handicap license plate you may also have to provide the current license plate number and the vehicle registration info that shows the vehicle belongs to the handicapped individual.
  •  Submit your application and pay the fee  - Once the application is filled out, take it back to the local issuing office. Be prepared to pay a fee.
  •  Pick up your plates at the local DMV  - If you’re issued handicap license plates those are usually picked up at the local DMV office. Bring the current license plates with you to swap out for the new plates.
  •  Don’t forget to renew permanent disability placards and plates  - Like all license plates and permits, disability parking placards and plates must be renewed. Check with the issuing agency for information on how long placards and plates are valid.

Using the Handicap Parking Pass

Disabled parking spaces

Now that you’ve gotten a handicap parking pass it’s time to use it - correctly.  Legal use of the disability parking placard requires that the disabled individual be in the car  . They can either be the driver or the passenger. If you use a placard without the disabled person present you can get fined over $1,000.

The handicap parking placard or plate allows you to  park in any handicap parking spot  . However, you still need to follow convention rules and park squarely within the lines even if there’s an extended portion to the side of the space.  It’s illegal to park in the striped access aisles  .

Handicap license plates are pretty straightforward. Install them in place of standard plates and you’re good to go. The  placards need to be hung up on the rearview mirror each time you park  . For safety and visibility reasons, it’s not a good idea to keep them on your rearview mirror while driving.

No one wants to suffer an injury that leads to a disability. But if it happens you can at least make getting around a little easier with a handicap parking placard and license plates.

Image sources by order of appearance: Flickr , Wikimedia , Unsplash

Krista Doyle