Most drivers are familiar with the burning anger you feel when you walk to a store all the way from the other side of the parking lot only to find someone parked illegally (and often terribly) in the handicapped parking. What exactly are the rules regarding these accessible parking spots and who is meant to enforce these rules?

Handicapped parking spaces aren’t there for drivers with big, flashy cars to use because they don’t feel like looking for parking. These spaces are reserved for people with certain impairments that make getting to and from their destination strenuous or painful. These impairments can include anything from needing a wheelchair, to pregnancy, to advanced cardiac disease. Regardless of the reason why people need them, these parking spots keep the distance to their destination as short as possible.

Now that you know how important accessible parking is, you might be ready to confront anyone who seems like they don’t need it. But before you wag your finger at the 20-something year old who seems to have no trouble walking, keep this in mind: not all impairments are visible. Just because someone isn’t visibly struggling to move doesn’t mean that they need accessible parking any less than someone who uses a wheelchair. Invisible disabilities like chronic pain, arthritis, heart disease and vision impairment affect people of all ages and financial backgrounds. You might not be able to tell by looking at someone, but you can definitely check their car if you have doubts about whether or not they’re breaking any rules. There should be a placard, a sticker, a licence disc, or number plates that show a wheelchair (which is the International Symbol of Access).

If the person is visibly disabled, but their car doesn’t have any of the fore-mentioned indicators, feel free to politely point it out. You might be saving them the effort of getting their car back after it’s been clamped or towed.

It’s also important to mention that you’re only allowed to use accessible parking if the person who needs it (and has the necessary proof) is in the car with you and needs to access that specific store or destination. You cannot use accessible parking, despite having a placard or sticker, if:

The person to which the placard belongs is not in the car with you
or

The person to which the placard belongs does not need to get out of the car
You may, however, use it if you’re driving someone with a placard to their destination and/or picking them up.

So, what to do when someone abuses handicapped parking spaces?

Write down the vehicle’s information (e.g. make, colour, number plates)
Notify a relevant authority figure. This could be a security guard, property manager, or a police officer.
File a complaint. If you go to the police station, you could be asked to fill in forms as an official complaint against the driver.

If you feel like you or a family member would benefit from using accessible parking due to any impairments, contact your primary health provider. They will be able to assess whether or not you’re fit to apply for a disability placard and point you in the right direction. Remember that you can apply to use the parking spaces if you suffer from temporary impairment as well. These could include recent surgery, chemotherapy/radiation, and injuries. You will be able to use the parking for as long as your health care practitioner deems it necessary.

Making the world more accessible for everyone is no small feat, but it starts with one person caring enough to make a difference. Be considerate to those who need help from time to time and speak out if you see something you think needs to change.

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