Passed in 2008, section 1003.4205 of the Florida Statutes designates the first two weeks of October as Disability History and Awareness Weeks in the Sunshine State. These laws, called Disability History and Awareness Instruction, strive to enhance awareness, increase knowledge and promote understanding among Floridian youth and the disabled community.
The Florida Statutes strive to ensure that handicapped parking spaces remain accessible only to permitted drivers.
In general, Florida's governing bodies cast a wide net for disabled inclusion, with resources including organizations such as Disability Rights Florida, the Florida Inclusion Network, Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, Florida Disabled Outdoors Association and many more. These community efforts and nonprofits are all reflective of the state's long history with the disability rights movement.
Of course, movements and state councils don't amount to much if they don't positively impact the day-to-day lives of the people they seek to empower. And you can't get more "day-to-day" than basic parking laws – here, in Florida as in other states, the law looks out for the rights of handicapped persons.
Florida Handicapped Parking Rules
The meat of many Florida handicap parking laws can be found in the Florida Statutes, Title XXIII, Chapter 316, which deals with motor vehicles and state uniform traffic control.
As most drivers know, it's illegal to park in any parking space designated and marked as reserved for people with disabilities. What you may not know, however, is that Florida law extends to obstructing these parking spots in any way – that includes stopping or standing in them. If you park in a handicap-designated spot unlawfully and get busted by the police, parking enforcement, or by the owner or lessee of the property on which the space is located, you can get slapped with a noncriminal traffic infraction – that's legalese for a plain old parking ticket, which is liable to cost well upwards of $200 in this case – but that's not the worst that can happen: Your vehicle can be removed to a lawful parking space. The cost of the removal and parking constitute a lien against the vehicle. If the disabled parking spot wasn't clearly labeled as such, though, the unlawful parker is only subject to a warning. When drivers are convicted of a violation, a report is sent by the clerk of the court to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Of course, vehicles that display a disabled parking permit or license plate are exempt from these rules and may park in the designated spaces as intended. In this case, a valid, up-to-date disabled parking placard must be displayed hanging from the rearview mirror with the permit number decal and expiration date visible from the front end of the vehicle. These placards must have a current registration decal (that ubiquitous yellow sticker) affixed to either side of the permit, and one side must display the permit holder's driver's license number or ID card number, or the permit-holding organization's Federal Employer Identification Number.
There's one pretty important caveat that the law lays out, though: The vehicle must be transporting the person to whom the displayed permit is issued in order to legally make use of the parking space.
If an officer of the law of parking enforcement personnel suspect that a driver may be violating handicap parking statutes in Florida, she has the right to demand to be shown a disabled parking permit and driver's license or state identification while investigating the potential violation. Those who refuse to provide these items may be charged with nonviolently resisting an officer.
Obstructing the Space
Not only is standing in or otherwise obstructing a space reserved for disabled drivers against Florida handicap parking rules, section 316.1955 of Title XXIII goes into quite a bit of detail on this particular topic.
Just as the space itself is off-limits to those without a permit, it's illegal to obstruct the path of travel to an accessible parking spot. If you put yourself or your vehicle in that path, you're subject to the same legal repercussions as if you parked your car in it. On the other hand, the law is on your side if you're transporting a person with a disabled parking permit, and you temporarily stand in the space while loading or unloading a disabled person. Transport vehicles with disabled permits may remain in disabled-accessible parking spots for 30 minutes maximum while transporting handicapped passengers, with one very specific exception – at theme parks and entertainment complexes (of which there are more than enough to go around in the panhandle). At these locales, vehicles transporting disabled persons are allowed to remain parked in handicap-reserved spaces for as long as the park is open to the public that day.
Getting a Disabled Permit
To be eligible for the disabled parking program in Florida, you must meet certain criteria. While you may have heard that you're eligible if you can't walk 200 feet without resting, that law was changed in 2002 and is no longer applicable. Current criteria includes conditions such as: legal blindness; the inability to walk without an assistive device or without the help of another person (unless the assistive device restores walking ability without major limitation); certain cases of lung disease; the use of a portable oxygen tank; heart conditions recognized by Class III or Class IV by the American Heart Association; or severe arthritic, neurological or orthopedic disabilities.
The process for applying starts with Form 83039 from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, titled "Application for Disabled Person Parking Permit." In addition to being fully completed and turned in in-person at your local county tax collector's office, this form must be signed by a physician, specifically a general physician or physician's assistant, osteopath, podiatrist, chiropractor, optometrist or nurse practitioner. The form allows you to apply for a permanent disabled placard (valid for up to four years) or a temporary placard (valid for up to six months). You may also apply for a Florida wheelchair license plate at this time, which is subject to expiration and renewal just like any other license plate.
But, is handicapped parking free in Florida? You won't be charged to park in designated spots, but (alongside your Florida driver's license or Florida ID card), you will need to pay a fee to get your disabled parking permit. As of 2018 rates, a temporary permit costs $15 while a permanent placard is free.
Those with impairments that are at least 50-percent resultant from military service (and verified by the federal government or the Veteran's Administration) may be eligible for Disabled Veteran plates in the state of Florida, attained with Form 83007, the "Application for a Disabled, Disabled Veteran or Motorcycle International Wheelchair Symbol License Plate." Disabled vets need only pay a fee of $1.50 for these plates, which can be renewed annually for the same reduced price.
Limitations on Disabled Parking
In Florida, you can't stay parked in a disabled spot forever, no matter how fresh and proudly displayed your permit is. If the number of days you can remain parked in a spot is restricted for the general public, the same number of days applies to vehicles with a disabled parking permit.
Vehicles with a disabled parking permit on display do not have to pay turnstile meters when they park on the street in the Everglade State – at least not for the first four hours. Whether you're able to park beyond that four hours boils down to local ordinances in each of Florida's municipalities. If you're one of the roughly 113 million tourists that visits Florida every year, you're legally allowed to use your home state disabled parking placard when parking in accessible spots in Florida. If you're visiting from another country, though, you'll need a temporary parking permit (which requires an application, a copy of your current disabled parking permit from your home country, ID and a small fee).
If you get caught using a disabled parking permit that does not belong to you, the state of Florida is liable to throw some hefty repercussions your way. As a second-degree misdemeanor, this crime comes with a $500 fine or up to six months in jail.
Parking Lot Compliance
In Florida, disability parking laws affect more than just the drivers who must comply with them. Parking lots constructed in the state fall under the jurisdiction of Florida handicap parking space requirements and other compliance laws in service of the disabled community.
Florida Statute section 553.5041, "Parking spaces for persons who have disabilities," says that state standards for disabled parking spaces "must comply with the requirements in ADAAG's 4.1." This refers to the federal legislation known as the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines provide a specific number of required handicapped parking spaces, based on the total number of spaces in the lot (roughly at least one handicapped space per 25 total parking spots, or a certain percentage of the total in larger parking lots).
ADAAG laws enforced in Florida also provide detailed requirements for the layout of each space. These parking spots must be no less than 12 feet wide and feature aisles with easily accessible routes to the building entrance, though two disabled parking spaces side-by-side may share a single aisle. See a lot of blue handicapped spaces in Florida? That's not a stylistic choice to match the Atlantic waters – ADAAG requires prominent blue outlines that must be painted and refreshed for visibility when necessary.
In terms of signage, "Parking by Disabled Permit Only" signs – which have to placed 84 inches above the ground – must be approved by the Florida Department of Transportation. The DOT requires these signs to be 12 inches wide and 18 inches high and feature reflective, one-inch letters, with full design specs and standards laid out on the form, FDOT Design Standards 17355, Sheet 3. The Department of Transportation also chimes in on those blue stripes, noting that a 6-inch-wide blue outline must be in place 2 inches inside the standard 6-inch white stripes.
Florida Building Codes
Similar to Florida handicap parking space requirements, the Florida Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Implementation Act – under Title XXXIII, Chapter 553 of the Florida Statutes, involving building construction codes – legally requires new building construction to meet accessibility standards, including some disabled parking standards.
In addition to complying with basic disabled parking laws and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, this legislation adds a few new wrinkles. For instance, it requires one handicap-accessible parking space in the immediate vicinity of public and governmental buildings and one disabled space for every 150 metered on-street spaces. As well as providing some flexibility in situations in which it's not feasible to comply with parking requirements – allowing facilities to provide alternative parking solutions for disabled persons – it also, quite broadly, states that "the number of parking spaces for persons who have disabilities must be increased on the basis of demonstrated and documented need."