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December: Accessible Parking

 Access Tip of the Month

December: Accessible Parking

As we navigate the frigid weather this month to finish last-minute shopping, see loved ones, and run our daily errands, let’s demystify a classic hot topic in and out of disability communities: Accessible Parking.

In this tip, you’ll learn why accessible parking has certain features, who gets to use accessible parking, and how YOU can support accessible parking wherever you are.

Are you looking for technical, engineering, or legal requirements on accessible parking, including Federal, State, and local laws? Scroll to the bottom and check out Laws, Guidelines, and Permits for Accessible Parking.

News Bulletin

Before we learn about general accessible parking access, check out PBOT’s Survey on accessible parking for people who park in metered districts with disability placards and this handy accessible parking map PBOT has compiled.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled tip…

Accessible parking is an essential feature of any accessible place.

It provides a useable link between someone’s vehicle and their destination. (It’s not very useful to drive to a place if you can’t get out of your vehicle and get to the actual place, is it?)

Accessible parking provides additional features that make it more usable for many people with many kinds of disabilities.

Features of Accessible Parking

1. It’s closer

When at all possible, accessible parking is closer to the place it serves than other parking. This can allow people with mobility disabilities to get to a building. This is also true for folks with disabilities that impact stamina, endurance, or cause fatigue. People with visual disabilities must navigate less terrain (and fewer dangerous vehicles!) to get somewhere.

2. It’s bigger

A wider parking space and access aisle allows for ramps to deploy, mobility devices (like wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, and canes) to be unloaded, and doors to open wide, which can be important for people with a variety of disabilities

3. It’s connected to the nearest accessible path and entrance

Someone can get to the building or place without finding curbs or steps blocking their way. (This is also why accessible parking is, occasionally, not the closest parking to the main or front entrance. If the accessible path to the accessible entrance happens to be along a slightly longer route, that’s where the accessible parking goes.)

4. It’s level, firm, stable, and slip resistant

Which is safer for people with all kinds of disabilities. This video shows what can happen if spaces are too sloped.

5. It has a tall, visible sign

People can find it while they’re still in their vehicle. They can know that it is there, but full, when another vehicle is parked there. And it is clear that a permit is required to park there.

Who can use accessible parking?

Accessible parking can be used by anyone with a valid Disabled Person Parking Permit  for themselves or a passenger in the vehicle.  This permit requires that a health care professional verifies an individual’s need for accessible parking.

It is important to remember that:

  • It’s estimated that between 85-94 percent of disabilities are invisible (depending on the stats you use). Someone may have any range of disabilities impacting how they travel from a vehicle to a building, and we cannot judge based on how someone looks if they should be using an accessible parking spot.  Note: These blogs use some old language (“handicapped…incapacitated…special needs”) that is no longer considered respectful in disability communities.
  • Accessible parking can be for a driver or passenger in a vehicle.
  • If you believe a vehicle is parked illegally in an accessible space, you can report the vehicle to the local police or Portland’s Volunteer Disability Parking Enforcement Program at 503-823-2221.
  • Confronting the vehicle owner or leaving a note is not recommended. Besides being potentially dangerous, this is someone making a judgment without having all the information. A surprise confrontation by an angry stranger helps no one.


Remember, we cannot guess if someone has a disability by looking at them.

How can YOU support accessible parking?

1. Speak up

If you notice a lot that has no accessible parking, or parking that needs a fresh coat of paint, speak with the facility owner or management and let them know how important it is to you to visit places that are accessible for everyone.  Bonus points for following up with a letter or email!

It can also be helpful to take photos if there are dumpsters or other objects blocking the parking. This way, you can show the owner and share them in your follow up email or letter as well.

2. Stop “just a minute” stealing the accessible parking

If you do not have a disability parking permit, and you decide use the accessible spot to run in “for just a minute” you are preventing other people from parking, and they may be forced to leave. Stop it.

If you are moving, or delivering the mail, or just feel  much busier and more important than the rest of us, doesn’t matter.

This is true for the access aisle too. Remember, access aisles are there for a reason.

3. Clear the ice and snow

Ice and snow can make an accessible spot completely unusable. And an accessible pathway to the entrance is just as important. If you are in charge of a business or facility, make plans to clear your parking lot this winter. If you cannot do it yourself, make arrangements to pay someone to do it so that you and your business are ready when the first flakes and ice crystals arrive.

Of course, those of us who aren’t business owners can encourage our favorite stores, shops, and restaurants to clear their space.

And each of us can buy a shovel to make sure our neighborhoods stay as accessible as possible this winter. Check out PBOT’s Winter Weather FAQs to get prepared!

Strive for a clear, dry sidewalk. These are safest, most accessible, and easiest to keep cleared.

Nice work! Now, we can all be all part of keeping accessible parking usable and available

Laws, Guidelines, and Permits for Accessible Parking

Federal Laws, State Laws and City of Portland Laws about accessible parking vary. Feel free to explore the links provided for more information.  It can help to know that cities can be stricter (make more requirements for accessibility, but not less) than states and states can be stricter than federal law. That’s how you can have different laws in different jurisdictions—the law with the strictest or most specific requirements for disability access is the law that applies.

There are no requirements for the size or number of accessible on-street parking spaces—Yet. Although there is case law that supports providing accessible parking when on-street parking is provided, specific rules about the number, location, size, or features of spaces apply only to parking lots and garages.

This will almost certainly be changing. The US Access board has developed Pubic Right of Way Guidelines (PROWAG) that includes guidance for accessible on-street parking. This guidance will very likely become a rule (law) in the future.

Local laws on paying for parking and State requirements to have a disability parking permit still apply in on-street accessible parking.