People with disabilities or conditions that substantially impair mobility can generally obtain a disability parking placard. Every state has its own criteria and process for obtaining a disability permit and penalties for breaking the rules. Here are some of the basics.
To obtain a disability permit, a person must have a qualifying condition. Qualifying conditions typically relate to a person's mobility—in other words, conditions that make it difficult or unsafe for the person to walk long distances. Common qualifying conditions include:
A disability permit can be issued for a permanent or temporary condition.
Generally, a person obtains a disability permit through the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Many states have hanging placards and disabled license plates. The application process normally involves filling out a form that includes a medical certification. A medical professional—typically, a physician, optometrist, surgeon, or nurse practitioner—must sign the certification indicating the applicant has a qualifying condition and whether the condition is temporary or permanent. The applicant might also have to pay an application fee.
Depending on the type of disability, a permit holder may need to renew the permit—and get a new medical certification—anywhere from every few months to every few years.
Because disability placards are issued by state governments, you may need to obtain a temporary permit if you plan to travel to another state and want to park in disabled spaces while there. The DMV in the state you're traveling to can let you know what the rules are for out-of-state travelers.
Disabled placards can lawfully be used by the disabled person to whom the placard was issued or persons transporting the disabled person. The disabled person doesn't need to own the vehicle used for transportation: Generally, the disabled person just needs to be a passenger in the vehicle and in reasonable proximity to the vehicle when the placard is in use.
However, it's illegal for a disabled person to lend a placard to friends, family, or anyone else who isn't entitled to use it. And it's also illegal for a person who's not disabled to use a disabled placard or park in a disabled spot—except when transporting a disabled person. Misuse of a disability placard is generally a misdemeanor crime. However, fraudulently obtaining or counterfeiting a disabled permit is usually a felony.
Disabled persons who allow others to use their placards—for purposes other than to transport the disabled person—may face confiscation and cancellation of the placard, fines, and jail time. Fines typically range from about $200 to $1,500 and the maximum possible jail time is usually six months to one year.
Unauthorized use of a disabled placard usually carries fines ranging from $200 to $1,500 and up to a year in jail. Similar penalties typically apply for parking in a disabled space without a valid permit.
Anyone who obtains a disabled placard by fraud (for example, by forging a doctor's signature) or counterfeits a placard may face felony charges. A felony conviction can result in thousands of dollars in fines and over a year in prison.