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Handicapped Parking

A topic that comes up over and over in a variety of places on the web where people with Multiple Sclerosis gather and compare notes is the handicapped parking placard.  You know the one – it hangs from the rear view mirror and gives us access to the preferred parking spaces. It is one of the few perks we have from living with MS.

From the outside it is hard to look at many of us and understand the unpredictability of MS or how we guard our energies closely and pick and choose how to spend that energy.  Early in the day I may feel charged and ready to go, but often by the time the work hours are coming to a close it is all I can do to make myself put one foot in front of the other and make it out to my car.  The building where I work is about 100 yards from the closest handicapped parking space and if I didn’t have my placard I would have to park even further out.    Many times walking that distance of a football field is manageable – of course at a different pace than everyone else, but it is still doable, but then there are those times when it takes all of my focus to command my legs to go forward.  The reality is I have no idea which walk it will be when I head to my car to go home.

Shopping is no longer so manageable, either.  Fortunately, the shorter distance to the door, thanks to my ‘special privilege’ of using a handicapped placard, gives my legs some extra distance in the store to hang on to the shopping cart and make my rounds up and down the aisles.    I have always advised others that using those parking spaces is smart – it allows us to stretch our physical reserves a bit further.

Using that placard has its hazards when we live with this ‘but you look so good’ chronic disease. If I am not carrying my cane, there is no outward sign that I have these mobility problems until I start walking and the fatigue sets in.  The same goes for many other people with MS.  There is much retelling of stories where people with MS have been confronted by others about using the placard and taking one of those reserved spots.  It seems getting a handicapped spot is harder to come by and some people feel entitled to harass others taking that spot.

A recent story talked about a person coming out to his car, only to find a very nasty note left on his windshield about how he should be ashamed of himself for parking in a handicapped spot.  The person had not seen him enter the office  building and had no way of knowing of his disability – this man drives a very nice BMW and the assumption is the note writer thought that no one with a disability would ever afford such a nice car or even have the ability to go to work.

I have to confess that more than once I have taken a second look at a person getting out of a car in a handicapped spot and wondered if they really belonged there or were they just taking advantage of someone else’s hang tag.  I will catch myself thinking that, and try to give the person the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps they ‘look so good’ just like me.

There’s another growing problem with handicapped parking these days – it has become much harder to find an empty spot during peak times. Here in Ohio,  getting a placard is a very easy process – you need a prescription slip from the doctor saying you need one, and then you take it to the license bureau, give them a few dollars and you are given the placard.  It takes very little effort or money to get that placard and it seems everyone has found the right phrasing to ask their doctor for that note.

There are about 5 million licensed cars in my home state of Ohio.  There are somewhere between 320-400,000 placards that have been issued.  This translates to about one in every 15 cars in Ohio could have a handicapped placard in use, and the statistics show the demand for these special passes continues to grow. Either I live in a very infirm, unhealthy state, or a lot of people have placards just because they want one.

The abundance of so many people in cars wanting to use these limited spots is especially difficult for people who travel in vans and use a wheelchair.  To get in and out of a van with a chair, it requires a ramp that is long enough to maneuver.  Even if you are fortunate to have a lift to get in and out, you still require extra space at the side of the van.  That’s why businesses are required to have handicapped spots marked ‘van accessible’ – it gives more space to exit and enter the vehicle. I have read more than one news report about the problems people in wheelchairs are having these days in getting a close parking spot – they often must park at the far edges of lots so they have adequate space to lower their ramp or lift.  The van accessible spots are being used for other vehicles.

I will continue to use the special parking spots at work, but pledge to be more conscious about using the limited spaces in other lots, especially those marked van accessible.  There is someone out there who needs that spot more than me. As for other people who look so good and are taking advantage of a very lenient handicapped placard system, I hope they will reconsider their use of those placards and give the people who really benefit from them, a chance for those prime parking spots.

Wishing you well,


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • melena10
    5 months ago

    Thank you for bringing up the van parking. You are right about leaving that open to people who really do benefit from that particular spot.

  • Nobu
    2 years ago

    I use my placard all of the time, but I use crutches so my disability is more obvious. I also drive my 90+ yo mom around and she uses a carne.

    A few years ago, I worked with a woman who drove a very nice BMW convertible, she was missing a foot and used crutches. I let her know that if I could be of any help for any reason to let me – know. I was not about to have her get any lip about the car she drove just because she was missing a foot.

  • Cynthia
    2 years ago

    I finally got a handicapped parking placard at the insistence of my neuro. I dont use it often and when I do I wait for someone to say something about not needing it. People are really cruel and really should think before they judge or speak. I never have been approached by anyone, but if it happens I would probably go off.

  • Julie
    2 years ago

    The one time I was approached about my parking in the handicapped spot I told them if they had any questions about my health I would be glad to provide the phone number of my neurologist and he could provide her with MS information.

    As for shopping, I am thinking about kissing the feet of the person who thought grocery pickup would be a good idea. All the big groceries around here have it, even Walmart. After joining I can just go online, click on what I want then drive up to their pickup area and someone comes out with my order, even loads it in my car! No more worries over whether there will be an open handicapped spot. No more stressing over shopping. The lights, noise, and crush of people put me into a shutdown mode. It’s a win/win for me.

  • Teri
    4 years ago

    After shopping at a big box store, a young lady and her brother passed me and made a comment about me taking the spot her mother should have. ( My cane was leaning against the car and I was loading bags) She went on a tirade about me not being handicapped, used lots of vulgar language and started to approach my car. Her brother grabbed her and drug her to their car. I could see her mother in a wheelchair. I was seriously frightened. If her brother had not been there, I am sure I would have been assaulted.
    I got into my car and cried. I didn’t want to leave because I was afraid she might follow me.
    My family (sister & son) wanted me to file a report. I was angry, hurt and scared. I did not ask to have MS. I do not use a handicapped spot if my mobility is well. I guess I am glad that I don’t “LOOK” handicapped. I just want to know, what gives people the right to judge?

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    4 years ago

    Teri, I am so sorry you experienced this bullying and harassment. This is exactly why I never want to say anything to anyone who ‘looks’ like they shouldn’t be using one of those spots. We can never know until we really know the person. I am glad you were safe and hope if that should happen again you will consider calling the police and filing a report. -Laura

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    We had fresh snow and now ice and anyone watching me walk today clearly sees why I need that up close parking spot. I wish I could shuffle faster than a 90 year old. -laura

  • Musicang
    6 years ago

    I now have a motorized chair but for many reasons, including financial, use a manual fold out ramp. That in itself gives people reason to stare. They watch me unfold the ramp, remove my chair, and refold it. I have a routine which involves minimal walking, but leaves me quite fatigued. I do use my placard because I feel much safer close to stores when I have to do all of this and unload groceries. I can barely balance by the time I leave a store and “pack up” even if I don’t do too bad unpacking when I get there. The time in the store wears me out, even in my chair. Every once in a while I have someone offer to help me pack up, but I am mostly just a circus act. I hate that feeling. I use to hate the “but you look so good” looks (and I still look good! Heehee). But seriously, people staring at you as you take your chair out? They need to grow up (and find something to do with their time!)

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    Curious question – if a stranger offers to help with the ramp, do you take them up on the offer? I have learned it is so hard to accept help but I will take it when offered freely. Years ago and before MS I was determined to never let what someone else thought determine my needs or behavior. It sounds like you are the same. -Laura

  • Musicang
    6 years ago

    And my license plate is an official NC state MS plate!

  • Dori
    6 years ago

    My biggest beef about handicapped spots is when I’m looking for a close spot, it never fails that there is someone just sitting in the driver’s seat in a car in the handicapped section. Obviously they’ve dropped someone off and are waiting for them. Why don’t they drop them off and go wait farther away and drive up to get them when they need to? Or is it the driver with the placard? Many times I have not shopped because there are no close spots and I just can’t do it that day. I’ve yet to pull up to that waiting person and let them know what I think, but it’s coming!

  • Jess
    6 years ago

    I now have a very visible reason to be in a handicapped space, however, I can remember when I first got my placard. First I felt guilty for using it because you couldn’t tell anything was wrong with me and I felt how I used to feel, that why is this young, seemingly healthy girl parking in a handicapped space? I remember coming out of the grocery store only to find a police officer by my car. After putting my bags down, he asked me to see my placard to verify the numbers on it. After NOT writing me a ticket I felt bad. Then at CVS I came out of the store to find a $200 ticket on my car, I then went to the city and verified I’m legit, they threw out the ticket. Never feel bad about using your placard, I do however wonder why when I go to Walmart and EVERY handicapped space is being used (they have a ton) I can’t help thinking to myself “Wow….there is a lot of handicapped people!!

  • Cari
    6 years ago

    I’m glad to see that I am NOT the only one who uses a cart for support when I go shopping. Even if I am only getting a few items, a cart is necessary for me.

  • Shelley
    6 years ago

    I have my answer ready if anyone confronts me. I will say I have Multiple Sclerosis but the only way to prove that to you is to have an MRI. I think they cost about 3,000.00. Then, you will have to hire a neurologist to interpret the results. Do you want me to schedule an MRI as soon as possible or will you need time to gather the 3500.00 you will need? Or, you could just
    believe the placard. Feel free to call the Department of Public Safety and verify the number on my placard to verify the issuance of the placard.

  • kleck
    6 years ago

    My issue with the handicapped parkers is that they do not park correctly. I am in a wheelchair and often find people who do not park between the lines. I cannot use a van accessible spot if the person parked next to it is parked halfway in the yellow cross lines. I have debated getting business style cards to put on people’s windshields to let them know their ignorance causes other people problems. Just because you have a handicap sticker it does not give you the right to disobey basic rules for parking.

  • Joybo
    6 years ago

    I love my own “handicapped placard” story and it goes like this: During the first few months of my last and worst exacerbation my symptoms were bad enough that I simply COULDN’T DRIVE. (Double vision/vertigo/ wacko eye stuff.)
    It was at that time I applied for permanent SSD and then decided to ask my doc to complete an application for handicapped parking permit. Long story short: My child, my son-in law, friends and neighbors had driven me around town to doctors and errands for a full YEAR and I was very reluctant to ask them to take me to (county office) where the Placard had to be picked up in person by the one qualifying for it. But ya see, I was TOO HANDICAPPED to pick up my HANDICAPPED PLACARD and darn if the signed and notarized form had an expiration date on it. I’m better now, driving short distances and am ambulatory. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t USE the placard if I had gotten it– saving walking and energy!– but maybe that “parking space” I’m not using was meant to be saved for someone who needs it more than I do now. I’m grateful to be okay.

  • Carrieb
    6 years ago

    I have two options with my placard. If I am feeling great I won’t use them and hope someone who needs it more will.
    On the other side, if I have fatigue, weakness or severe cognitive issues I don’t hesitate at all. My kids get this and that makes me really happy!

  • fedupandconfused
    5 years ago

    Me too. Because disabled spots are rare I use mine when I have to i.e. if I’m feeling I can’t manage the distance & that way I don’t feel guilty.

  • mario lobo
    6 years ago

    Great points, in your blog posting and in the comments!
    How about those HP parking spaces that leave no room for a wheelchair between the HP space and the next? It doesn’t matter how close the parking space is to the entrance of a building, if I can’t get the wheelchair to the passenger door, my wife can’t get out of the car.
    And how about the people without HP placards or license plates,who use HP parking spaces for “standing”? They’re sitting in their cars with the engine running, dropping someone off or waiting to pick someone up. They don’t seem to get the fact that if they’re taking up the space, it’s not available for someone who needs it, whether their car is running and they’re sitting in it or not! I’m not a schadenfreude type, but I really do get a warm feeling when I see a police officer ticketing a car illegally parked in an HP spot.

  • Kim
    6 years ago

    I first obtained a placard as a way to get an assigned parking space at work. Like many others, getting to and from the car could be difficult depending on the day. Prior to that, I fell several times. I also used to park by the shopping carts, as I used those for balance. I’m now at the point where I use a walker for short trips, and a scooter for shopping, and other long trips. I will u a handicapped space at the grocery, as I need the added space to load my groceries from the scooter. At the mall, I often leave the close spaces for others, and motor in from the farther spots. I, too, see lots more folks with placards-I’m in central PA. I try not to judge who has a placard,but its tough sometimes!

  • Michraf
    6 years ago

    What a great blog. I had the placard for months before I used it. Being stubborn and still in denial 10 yrs later. Now, I use it when I have to and cannot find either a close spot or one close to carts. At work I park in the visitor spots across from the school. I was approached by the principal and told to park there. THANK GOD! The walk to the parking lot is far and the handicap spots are blocked by the buses in the afternoon.

  • kelly1827
    2 years ago

    All the Chick-fil-A’s in our area have their handicapped parking spaces where the drive thru line wraps around. If you park in one and the drive thru gets backed up, you’re trapped =/.

  • Deb
    6 years ago

    I feel the same way. I now have an electric wheelchair to get around and do not use the handicap spots to save them for the people who are trying to walk. The big problem I have now is the handicap stall in the rest rooms. Please reconsider using these stalls if you don’t need it. A person with a wheelchair can’t get into a normal stall

  • kleck
    6 years ago

    I am in a wheelchair Deb and I see this all the time. The part that really gets my goat is some people don’t think it’s a big deal when they come out of the stall and see me waiting. One time I told a young girl that those stalls are meant for people like me. She told me she uses it because her legs are long. I thought about it after and wish I would have said, “At least you have legs that you can use because I don’t and there are two stalls you could have used whereas I only have the choice of one.”

  • Jo Jo
    6 years ago

    I go through the same thing . Most times I just ignore the people who stare and wonder. Sometimes if something is said I just ask them if they are a Doctor when the answer is no I just say then you would never understand
    I live in New York The borough of Queens. There’s a handicap parking sign at one of my locations that says it all. TAKE MY SPOT

  • Curious1
    6 years ago

    I know what you mean. At my job, we started our workday at 8:30 am, late by most standards. By then the only parking spots left were far from the bldg and the lot had a slight incline so by the time I got inside my calves were yelling at me! The lot had 8 handicap reserved spots and only one person used one, so I got a placard for the work parking lot. But when it comes to other lots, like shopping, I tend to go for a spot near a cart corral instead. I don’t see the need to park closest to the doors when I’m going to walk all over the large store! Plus parking near the carts allows me to grab one to use for balance as I go into the store and bring out with my purchases, then it’s easy to return to the corral. I also leave the reserved spots for those who need them more than I. I use a cane, others are worse and need them more.

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