Safety First: It's Time To Get A Handicapped Placard

The time had come.  I finally had to give in.  My legs weren’t behaving, and one of my hands was giving me trouble.  Overall, I felt weak, tired, numb, dizzy and b-l-a-h, b-l-a-h, b-l-a-h.

If you’re reading this, you know what I mean.

The year was 1990 and I’d been living with Multiple Sclerosis for a couple of years.  I wasn’t off to a great start.  This was all new to me, and I wasn’t used to the changes that were rapidly happening to my body.

Does anyone ever get used to that?

I was also feeling less sure of myself when I got behind the wheel of my car.  I couldn’t feel my right foot, and since that’s the important leg for driving, I had a problem.

My doctor suggested I get hand controls for my car, and apply for a handicapped placard.

Was she kidding me?  Hand controls?  A placard?  Why did I need to put something on the dashboard of my car that labeled me as incompetent?  Wasn’t there already enough of a stigma about being disabled (people weren’t using that term yet.) Why did I have to risk sticking out like a sore thumb in front of my friends and family? Most importantly, why would I want people staring at me whenever I used a handicapped parking spot?

Then I had one of those crystal clear moments that don’t come along too often.  I had one moment of clarity when a thought crossed into my stream of consciousness to point the way to a truth. That truth was this:

Being safe and taking good care of yourself is more important that anything else.

My consciousness was right.

So I got a prescription from my doctor to get hand controls installed in my car, and another one to apply for a handicapped placard.

While I waited for the mechanic to finish installing the hand controls, I felt nervous about comfortably driving without using my feet. It was going to feel odd driving with my hands, and I felt like a teen before her first driving lesson.

Yet I was determined to learn this new skill with courage and strength. And I did.

It was easy to learn how to use my hands instead of my feet to control the accelerator and brakes. It felt good to, once again, be at ease while driving, without the worry about safety. 

I felt proud of myself after accomplishing this new skill.

Now it was time to apply for a placard.

According to the website of my home state’s Motor Vehicle Commission, here are the requirements in order to get a handicapped placard.


If your condition falls into one of the categories listed below, you are eligible for wheelchair symbol plates and a placard that give you special parking privileges.

  1. Has lost the use of one or more limbs as a consequence of paralysis, amputation, or other permanent disability.
  2. Is severely and permanently disabled and cannot walk without the use of or assistance from a brace, cane, crutch, another person, prosthetic device, wheelchair or other assistive device.
  3. Suffers from lung disease to such an extent that the applicant’s forced (respiratory) expiratory volume for one second, when measured by spirometry, is less than one liter, or the arterial oxygen tension is less than sixty mm/hg on room air at rest; oruses portable oxygen.
  4. Has a cardiac condition to the extent that the applicant’s functional limitations are classified in severity as Class III or Class IV according to standards set by the American Heart Association.
  5. Is severely and permanently limited in the ability to walk because of an arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic condition; or cannot walk two hundred feet without stopping to rest.
  6. Has a permanent sight impairment of both eyes as certified by the N.J. Commission of the Blind (placard only).

Medical Certification Process Change Effective August 1, 2013

Certification by a qualified medical practitioner is now required as part of the initial and recertification application process. Qualified medical practitioners include physicians, podiatrists, licensed chiropractors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants licensed to practice in this state or a neighboring state or a physician stationed at a military or naval installation located in this State who is licensed to practice in any state. The Motor Vehicle Commission requires a qualified medical practitioner to certify that you meet the eligibility criteria for the Person with a Disability identification card, placard and/or license plates. This certification requires a script from a qualified medical practitioner for your condition. If your medical practitioner is not authorized to write scripts then they are required to write a letter containing the same information that would appear on a script for your condition. The medical practitioner certification requires the disclosure of the practitioner’s National Provider Identification Number and their Taxonomy code.

I use my placard only when it’s absolutely necessary.  If I’m feeling tired or weak, or if it’s a particularly hot or frigid day, I make use of parking closer to my destination.  It makes my life easier, and less stressful by removing the worry of getting overtired.

As for the stigma that I once thought was associated with using a placard, I’ve learned that if anyone has a problem with my using it, it is simply their problem and not mine.  I know I am doing what I can to take the best care of myself. 

In the end, there is nothing more important than that.

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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.

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