How to Get a Disability Parking Permit for Your Car

Patient Expert

When you have a chronic illness that affects your mobility, there may come a time when you can benefit from having a handicapped parking placard or a disabled license plate. These kinds of permits allow people with disabilities to park in designated parking spaces located close to the entrance of buildings. As well, they also enable you to park at metered parking spaces for free, although there may be time limits for this. Do you think you might qualify? This post has more information on disability parking permits and how the application process works.

Handicapped parking placards vs. disabled license plates

The main difference between a handicapped parking placardand a disabled license plateis that placards are issued for temporary disabilities whereas a plate is for those who have a permanent condition. Placards may be used after you have had surgery or experience any other type of temporary physical limitation and are typically valid for six months, after which it may be possible to renew them. They should be displayed hanging from the rearview mirror when parked. A disabled license plate is for the car and is renewable in much same way as a regular license plate.

How do you qualify?

In order to qualify, you have to meet certain criteria, which vary from state to state. There may also be differences between the requirements for temporary and permanent permits. Please check your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for more information.

In general, the requirements may include at least one of the following:

  • lack the full use of an arm or leg
  • inability to walk a certain distance without needing to stop (200 feet is commonly used as a qualifying distance)
  • inability to walk without the assistance of a mobility aid such as a cane, crutch, prosthetic, wheelchair or the support of another person
  • have a severe heart condition
  • inability to walk without the use of portable oxygen
  • have a visual impairment or blindness

Submitting the application

To apply for a temporary or permanent disability parking permit, you will need to submit an application form to the DMV in your state. Application forms for your state are available through the DMV website.

Once you have filled out your part of the form, bring it to your physician or another medical professional approved to provide information about your condition. This can include a chiropractor, physician’s assistant, optometrist, podiatrist or registered nurse. Once your form has been filled out, submit it to the DMV. Some states may require a fee.

Keep in mind that the person who registered for the disability parking permit is the only person allowed to use it, whether that person is the driver or passenger. It is very important to make sure that friends and family members not use the permit without you. A violation can result in fines in excess of $1000 and possible community service.

Dealing with other people’s reactions

Some people who have a chronic illness that entitles them to a disability parking permit may not appear disabled. This may lead to misperceptions that result in offensive comments from others about you using an accessible parking space despite not looking like you need it. These people tend to be angrier than well-meaning and can say things that can be very hurtful.

People on the receiving end of these comments have reported feeling ashamed, but there is no need for this. Remember that shame and guilt are signs that you’ve done something wrong. You haven’t. If you have a disability parking permit, both a medical professional and the DMV have agreed that you need one.

If you are up to it, you may want to seize this opportunity for raising awareness about invisible disability and your particular condition. Reply to the person’s comments with a short explanation of what invisible illness and disability mean. You may want to get some pamphlets on your particular condition from organizations such as The Arthritis Foundation or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society — sharing this with the person in the parking lot could make them think twice about judging other people in the future. But if the person is very angry, it’s probably best to not engage. Don’t put yourself at risk.

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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.