Handicap Parking—A Trusty Guide so You Don’t Look Like a Freaking Idiot

When it comes to handicapped parking, I’ve pretty much seen it all with my multiple sclerosis. And just when I think it couldn’t possibly get any more outrageous, it does. Like the other day when Laura and I were stopping for lunch and someone had parked illegally in the blue striped area between two handicap spaces, leaving little room for my wheelchair. (Parking in the blue striped area is strictly forbidden, even if one has a handicap placard or plate, which—for the record—this person did not.) The offender spotted us navigating this cluster and once we got inside, hustled out to move her car. Good, I thought. Until we came out after our meal and saw that she had just moved her car down a couple spots and was now illegally straddling two handicapped spaces! I cannot make this shift up.

Who can and can’t (or shouldn’t) park in handicapped spaces is a debate disabled—and abled—people love to have. And both parties think they know what they are talking about. Many do. But many don’t. Which is why I’ve prepared this trusty handicap parking guide so you and your friends and family don’t look like friggin’ morons.

No, you can’t tell if that person is a scofflaw or really disabled, so stop the #%*$ trying. This has to lead the list. Many disabilities are invisible, and even if someone bounds out of the car like a famished cop at a Krispy Kreme (oh, just kidding officer!), they could still have a debilitating condition. Please don’t give them the stink eye. For example, with MS, you may walk fine at first before struggling to take steps at the end of a shopping trip. Or when a cool morning turns to a hot afternoon—sapping the strength of MSers like Kryptonite sabotages Superman—a too-close parking space when you arrive at work might feel miles away when it is time to go home. Think about this: Consider how important it would be to be close to the front door on a cloudless sunny day if you have a severe sensitivity to sunlight. Or if you are a vampire. Or if you have discovered the lost Ark of the Covenant and decided, like a moron, to look inside, and now your face is melting off and you need shelter. (Wait, that probably wouldn't qualify for a placard. And besides, you likely are a Nazi.) 
Nope, not bingo. This is illegal.

No, van accessible handicap spaces are not the same. Van-specific spaces are bigger and have striped areas on one or both sides of the space to accommodate a ramp for side-loading of wheelchairs or scooters. Intrude on those areas, and that spot becomes rather useless. (Shocker, that includes no motorcycles, which their owners park on those blue striped areas with more regularity than one would expect. And no shopping carts. Don’t leave them there!) If you don’t need the extra space and there are other handicapped spaces nearby, consider using one of those instead. It’s good karma.

No, you can’t assume that because a handicap placard or license plate is not visible, that the car is parked illegally. Yes, disabled people can forget to hang the placard (done that). And the placard can fall off the rear view mirror onto the floorboard while you are enjoying a quick beer—with your spouse as the driver—and then get a very expensive ticket (done that). Remember the assume rule. It makes an ass out of u and me. Actually, in this case, probably just you. I can be an ass about many things, but not when it comes to parking.

No, you can’t park there “for just a sec” to run in and grab something unless you have a placard. Why? Because when you take that space, that disabled person with a placard—you know, the one who is in the car right behind you, the one you didn’t notice—will assume you are parking legally. And drive on, circling block after block searching for another accessible space that may or may not exist, and potentially miss his romantic dinner reservation. This happened to me once. Once.

No, you can’t park there to pick up a friend because you are behind the wheel… and the car is idling… and you could immediately move if asked. Because there is not a chance in hell I am going to yell out my car window to ask you if you are really handicapped and, if not, to please kindly move. See invisible disabilities, above.

No, you can’t park there temporarily to unload your stuffed ferret collection that you are generously donating to charity. It’s parking reserved for the disabled. It is not a loading/unloading zone. And what in God's name are you doing collecting stuffed ferrets? And then trying to pawn them off on a charity? Don’t get me started on my stuffed ferret rant.

Also illegal. And still not bingo.
Can you believe this shift?
No, you can’t park over the lines for a little extra room because the space is so huuuge. Being able to park legally in a handicapped space does not mean you can also be a jerk. When you nudge over into a neighboring space, whether it is handicapped or not, the people in the vehicle next to you lose room. And they might need it for a wheelchair or to manage a pair of forearm crutches or to drive up in a mobility scooter. Or to unload their cherished stuffed ferret collection. Be considerate to all!

No, you can’t use your mom’s placard to run to the store to pick up her medication. Sorry. If your mom is not with you, you can’t use her placard. Period. It doesn’t matter if you are doing her this massive favor, even though you live with her in a spare bedroom (you pay rent!), and are 37. And a stubborn case of eczema does not qualify as a disability warranting the use of a handicap placard. And you definitely can’t use it if she is dead. That’s just fraud.

No, you can’t drive with the handicap placard hanging on your rear view mirror. It blocks your vision. Oh, and it’s illegal. And makes you look like an idiot. Don’t be an idiot.

No, you can’t borrow a handicap placard because you sprained an ankle. Such a bummer, I know. Especially since you look disabled! Get a temporary permit, which is often given out for those dealing with cancer treatments, leg or back injuries, or some pregnancies (particularly those that require bed rest). And that also means if you have a placard, you can’t lend it out to your buddy who busted his toe unsuccessfully attempting a keg stand.

No, you also can’t use someone else’s placard so you can get free parking. Cars with valid handicap placards in many cities (but not all) get to park for free with unlimited or fewer time restrictions. Score! (In San Francisco, published reports have found one could save as much as $14,000 a year!) But if you are not disabled, you are just a common thief. Next time you are in a Starbucks, why not just dump the whole “take-a-penny-leave-a-penny” jar into your pocket? The change might be a nice bonus after you rob that little girl’s lemonade stand.

No, it is not illegal to park in a handicapped space if your partner is going to run into the store while you and your gimp self are waiting in the car. But it’s an uncool move. Park in a regular spot and wait there unless you plan to get out.

No, don’t call 911 to report a potential offender. Call the non-emergency number for your local police department or 311 (if that service is available) and report the abuse along with the license plate. But since so many disabilities are invisible, you best be darn tootin’ sure, like seeing an expired permit or not seeing one at all. It was recently reported that one cop just sits in a Costco parking lot and hands out tickets (50 a day!), but he must wait for each and every shopper to check for identification.

These are just a few guidelines to follow when it comes to handicap parking. And be forewarned: follow them. Because one state has fines as steep as $10,000 and 18 months in prison for anyone convicted of making false statements or providing misinformation to obtain a placard. Which one? You don’t want to find out the hard way. Happy parking!