Five Really Bad Excuses for Parking in a Handicapped Space When You Shouldn’t

Several years ago, I drove my daughter Leah to school one icy morning. Because slippery, icy sidewalks are a danger to people like us with fragile bones, I pulled into the parking lot closest to the school entrance, where there are two handicapped spaces. Both spaces were full.

This is not an unusual occurrence. One spot is nearly always taken by a teacher who has a permit, leaving only one other spot for anyone visiting the school who also has a permit.

But this morning, the car in the second space did not have a permit. Anywhere. I looked, long and hard. Nope. No permit.

Because I really needed to park as close to the school as possible given the ice, I squeezed my car into the lined area between the two spaces. (The school has given me permission to park anywhere, including in the principal’s designated space or on the grass, if the handicapped spots are all full.) Leah went inside. And I sat there, waiting.

Along came a mom, Starbucks in hand. I got out of my car and said in the most friendly voice I could muster, “Excuse me. But I noticed you don’t have a handicapped permit on your car. I really needed to use one of these spaces this morning for my daughter, who has a physical disability.”

She mumbled something about how “My kid has something too” and “I left my permit at home.”

No, she didn’t leave it at home. She didn’t have one. I’ve gotten to know the other families, parents, and teachers at our school who have legitimate tags. This mom is not one of them. And in the years since this incident, I have never seen her park there again. I think she parked there because it was a cold, unpleasant morning and she didn’t want her or her child to have to walk far. And like most people who park illegally in handicapped spaces, she probably justified it with one of these common excuses.

1.         “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

I’m guessing that was this mom’s reasoning. But what, pray tell, are those of us with a legitimate tag supposed to do when we show up and all the spaces are full? Intuit that you’ll be back in just a few minutes? And then cheerfully cool our heels, knowing that we’ll eventually be able to park if we’re just patient? Regardless of whether, perhaps, we might need to be somewhere at a certain time?

2.         “I’ll only be a minute, and I’m staying in my car, so I can move if someone comes along who needs the space.”

And how will you know that someone needs the space? Will that person (again, cheerfully) get out of his/her car, come knock on your window, and say, “Excuse me. Would you mind moving? I need this space.” Oh, wait. These spaces are for people with physical impairments. So getting out of the car might actually be something of an ordeal, something they might like to do only once. Say, after they park in a designated handicapped space.

3.         “I/my family member hurt my/his/her knee/back/foot.”

Handicapped spaces are not for people with temporary injuries. If you have an injury that is more than temporary but not lifelong, you may be able to secure a limited-time permit, depending on your state laws. But you still need to go through the application process to do that. You can’t just decide on your own that you have a legitimate need for a handicapped space.

I know it can be hard and painful to walk long distances with an injury. Believe me, I know. But if your injury is temporary, you need to suck it up and deal. Ask someone to drive you and drop you at the door. Consider getting a cane or crutch to help you get safely from point A to point B. Make an appointment to talk to a doctor about pain management. Just don’t park in a space that is legally not yours to park in.

4.         “I’m driving my elderly aunt/grandfather/neighbor around for the day.”

That’s very nice of you. Next time you do someone this kind of favor, ask if they have a handicapped parking permit and if they do, suggest they bring it with them. You can temporarily put it on/in your own car. If they have a handicapped-designated license plate on their car, ask if they would like you to drive their car instead of yours to get the parking benefit.

If they don’t have a permit, or are unable or unwilling to bring theirs along, then drop them off at the door before parking the car.

5.         “My dad/grandma/elderly uncle died and I inherited his/her car, with a handicapped permit.”

OK. So I have no way of knowing, when I see a car with a legitimate handicapped tag, if that tag was procured for the person who is actually using it on this particular day. And I know better than to question someone’s use of a handicapped tag based on whether they “look” disabled. (Yeah. That? Don’t ever do that. You really can’t know someone’s reasons for having the tag at a glance. A friend whose child has my bone disorder once had a passerby yell at her for parking in a handicapped spot. I hope that passerby felt appropriately ashamed when she saw my friend pull her daughter’s wheelchair out of the trunk.)

But if you’re taking spaces away from people with wheelchairs and walkers and terribly arthritic knees just because you can, just because you happen to have a tag that you inherited from someone, but you don’t actually have any reason for needing such a tag?

Then you’re just a jerk.

Bottom line: If you don’t have a valid handicapped parking permit in or on your car—a permit that was legitimately issued to you or someone who is riding in your car—then don’t park in a handicapped space.



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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Miriam

    So I have a question…is there any etiquette surrounding the use of the larger handicapped bathroom stalls in public rest rooms? I don’t use them when I’m alone, but when I have kids with me, I always use them if can. Is that “fair use”? I’ve never had anyone say anything to me about it or give me the evil eye, so I’ve always figured it was OK.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      I don’t know what others would say, but I also use the larger handicapped stalls with kids, since we do tend to all go in together still. And because I don’t use a wheelchair, I have no legitimate need for the larger stalls, although Leah has needed them when she has used a chair or even a walker. I think this is different than using a parking space, in that 1) it would be obvious if a person with a wheelchair entered the restroom who needed the stall, and 2) hopefully that person wouldn’t mind waiting a minute or two for you to finish with your children. With parking, there’s not a good way for someone to know that someone else might legitimately need the space, and that someone cannot just wait for the space because there’s no way of knowing when it will become free.

      • Lemur

        As a person who uses a wheelchair to get around, and from talking with other wheelers who agree with me, I’d say the answer about the accessible bathroom stalls is almost the same as for the accessible parking spots.

        Speaking from the point of someone with a spinal cord injury, when we need to use a public restroom it is usually because it is time to empty our bladder. This is something that must be done on a fairly set time table for many of us. For those who have been dealing with it long enough we generally know how far we can push the time, and admittedly we do tend to wait until the last minute in many cases. Because of this and due to extremely reduced or complete lack of bladder control sitting and waiting for even a few minutes can result in an embarrassing accident.

        The difference is when ALL the other stalls in the bathroom are in use, then it is acceptable for an AB to use the larger stall. We understand that many places don’t provide more than two or three stalls, often times only one or two, so the odds of finding the normal stalls in use are higher depending on time of day and type of establishment, and the only available stall winds up being the accessible one. But otherwise you need to stay out unless you NEED the handrails for safety reasons.

        • Ellen Painter Dollar

          Thanks for that advice, Lemur. Because it’s been ages since I used a wheelchair, I didn’t feel qualified to answer this one definitively. And I’m also incredibly grateful that my children are just about old enough to NOT need to squeeze into a bathroom stall with me!

    • Wendy

      As a wheelchair user I would say that the only times it is ok for you to use the stall is (1) if you need the changing table and it’s in the stall or (2) all the other stalls atr full and there isn’t a person with a disability waiting too.

  • Kate B.

    In comparison to all the various “immoral” things I may or may not have done in my life, I think God would really give a me talking-to if I ever did this.

  • Rachel Stone

    I *think* it’s possible to get temporary handicapped stickers–as for a broken leg situation. I haven’t done it, but I should’ve on the last broken leg.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      Yeah. Pretty sure that you can get temp tags if needed. Though I imagine it might be one of those things where, by the time you go through the bureaucracy, you might be halfway (or more) to recovery! .

  • Terry Wysong

    All I can say is “Amen”! This is one of my pet peeves, too. Re: restrooms: I don’t need the extra room, but I do need the bars as an assist. Some places now have two different stalls accommodating ambulatory handicapped, and wheelchair.

  • Ryan

    I write blogs Shaming this people, with pictures as proof, lots are government/city vehicles.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      “Wheels of Shame”–love it. I think you’re right about government, city, and other official vehicles. A friend once snapped a photo of a news van taking up two or three spaces.

  • Steve Stone

    I saw a Handicap permit a few weeks ago and it look like it was old and wore out because you could barely read it, it was so faded out, they do have a expiration date on them.

  • Will

    As a caregiver to someone who is wheelchair disabled, I’ve come to realize that there are 2 functions of that space. One is proximity to the entrance, the other is to have the lines on the side for entering and exiting the vehicle, especially if there is a side ramp. We just need the space along side the vehicle, we are not as concerned with proximity. Not having that space puts us in a dangerous situation when loading and unloading. Those that are caught abusing a handicap slot need to be sentanced to spending a day running someone around in a wheelchair!

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