ADA Requirements for Handicap Parking Signs

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, prevents discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities. The act sets standards for accessibility, including those defining the ADA handicap parking sign requirements. These regulations ensure that people with mobility issues can access the same places as everyone else.

Individual cities and states may have more stringent parking sign policies than the ADA itself. For instance, New Jersey requires a supplemental parking sign alongside the handicap parking sign that explains the penalties for parking illegally in a handicap spot.

ADA Handicap Parking Sign Requirements

The ADA requires the sign to display the International Symbol of Access, a figure resembling a person in a wheelchair. Extra-large spaces must display a secondary sign reading “van accessible.”

Signs must be in front of each handicap parking space. The bottom edge of the sign must be at least 5 feet from the ground and easily viewable by drivers.

The ADA also requires spots to be marked on the pavement. It’s common for spaces to be marked with the International Symbol of Access in blue paint, while others simply mark the front of the space with a line of blue paint. It’s up to municipalities and state laws to determine the color and type of ground marking for a handicap spot.

Which Locations Require Handicap Parking Spaces?

Any location that offers parking to the public, including employees, must provide accessible parking spots. More specifically, entities requiring handicap parking are listed in Title II and Title III of the ADA. While parking lots with four spaces or fewer don’t have to meet the ADA handicap parking sign requirements, they still must provide spaces that meet accessibility guidelines.

One often-overlooked facet of the law is a provision to address the need for handicap parking in temporary lots set up on gravel or grass fields. Event coordinators, business owners and others who need spaces for customers and visitors might want to consult with an attorney to ensure they have the number and type of spaces required.

Types of Handicap Parking Spaces Required by the ADA

Two types of handicap parking spaces are required by the ADA: accessible parking spaces and van-accessible parking spaces. Handicap spots are 8 feet wide with 5 feet of clearance. Two spaces can share the same clearance area. Van-accessible spaces are 11 feet wide with an additional 5 feet of clearance.

How Many Handicap Spaces Are Required per Lot?

ADA standards require one van-accessible spot for every six regular handicap parking spots. That means that when only one spot is required, it must be van-accessible parking.

The number of handicap parking spaces per lot depends on the number of total parking spaces and the type of venue. Hospitals must reserve 10 percent of their parking spaces for handicap spots, while physical rehabilitation centers must reserve 20 percent. Other establishments start at one handicap space per 25 parking spaces, up to 2 percent for a lot of 501 spots or more.

It’s important to note that each facility’s parking obligations are figured on a lot or garage basis, not on the total number of spots available.

How Did Handicap Parking Laws Change in 2010?

The Department of Justice updated ADA requirements in 2010. In particular, the changes called for more accessible van parking spaces, which require a wider space and access lane. Older parking facilities were not required to meet the new guidelines if they were complaint with the original standards set by the ADA. However, upgrades like resurfacing and restriping made after March 2012 must conform to the ADA 2010 handicap parking space painting requirements.

Any entity required to provide handicap parking spaces should review current ADA handicap parking sign requirements to ensure compliance, not only to prevent discrimination, but to avoid unnecessary lawsuits.

Business owners in Arizona found this out the hard way when a nonprofit called Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) filed thousands of lawsuits based on infractions as small as signs that were an inch off ADA parking sign height requirements. The group was eventually barred from suing businesses in Arizona. State laws were also changed to allow businesses time to fix an infraction before anyone could file suit. Business owners in other states haven't been so lucky.

How to Get a Handicap Parking Permit

In most states, drivers need to visit a doctor and obtain verification of a medical condition requiring a handicap permit. Applicants should speak to their doctor before scheduling an appointment. They might need to pick up forms from the local courthouse or Department of Motor Vehicles before their doctor’s visit.

States often have different permits available for those with permanent disabilities and people with temporary needs. For instance, in Iowa, a patient who struggles to walk 200 feet before becoming winded is eligible for a parking permit, including some women at the end of their pregnancies.

Read More:How to Get an ADA Card

Handicap Parking Permit Applications and Renewals

Depending on the state, a verified application might result in various types of handicap announcements to display, such as placard, a license plate or a registration sticker.

Some states also have Disabled Veteran license plates that act as permits.

In addition, each state determines the laws regarding permit renewal. California cities, in particular, are cracking down on the misuse of placards by friends and family of permit recipients who have passed away or who ordered duplicates.

Can You Get a Handicap Permit on Behalf of Someone Else?

In certain situations, people without disabilities are granted handicap parking permits to assist a friend, client or family member with mobility issues. This depends on state law and is almost always limited to trips in which the disabled person is in the car.

What Are the Penalties for Illegally Parking in a Handicap Spot?

State laws determine the penalties for traffic-related infractions, such as parking in a handicap space without permission. Two common penalties occur:

  • Illegal parking in handicap-accessible spaces, and
  • Fraudulent use of a handicap parking permit.

Most municipalities take illegal parking in handicap spots very seriously. It’s not rare for offenders to face hundreds of dollars in fines in addition to having their cars towed. Misusing a handicap placard can result in even stiffer penalties, including the revocation of the permit.

It’s not always easy to tell if someone who steps out of a car needs a permit, because certain conditions don’t limit patients’ mobility all of the time. People with chronic pain disorders, for instance, might move effortlessly one day and have trouble walking a few feet without assistance the next.

Parking in a Handicap Space With a Missing or Damaged Sign

ADA handicap parking sign requirements and street markings are both required in the event of damaged hardware or worn paint. Two methods are used as a fail-safe, so single, missing element doesn’t give a driver the right to use an accessible space if he is not handicapped. Drivers should take extra notice of their surroundings when they find a parking space close to a building’s entryway, particularly if that space is wider than usual.

Many municipalities require proof of a missing sign ​and​ missing street markings if a driver is to avoid penalties for parking in a handicap-accessible space.

What If I See Someone Parked Illegally in a Handicap Spot?

Cities and states have their own methods for dealing with abuse of accessible spaces. In most areas, witnesses should call the police and make them aware of the violation. Citizens should not confront the driver or attempt to make a “citizen’s arrest.”

Handicap-accessible parking spaces allow people with physical limitations to live fuller lives. Proper signage ensures this right, and it also prevents legal problems. Parking lot managers should move to replace damaged or missing signs as soon as possible and make sure they meet all ADA specifications.