Signs vs. stencils: what are the ADA requirements for disabled parking spots?

| March 28, 2013 | 58 Comments
disabled parking pavement marking

By Taber Andrew [image used under Creative Commons license]

We understand more than most how disabled parking issues are complicated. It can be difficult to know whether a business is in compliance – if you’re the business owner or the customer. There are charts to follow, federal and state regulations to adhere to, and particularly in the last few years, changes that need to be implemented whenever readily achievable.

One of our most popular posts was written to help people understand the changes to disabled parking requirements brought by the 2010 Standards, and it remains an active discussion in the comments. From time to time, we’ll see one question that we think is broadly applicable. This week, we heard from Bob, who writes:

Is there any way that you can sue to get a company to mark the handicap parking zone correctly? The sign is not there. The floor is blue with a wheelchair emblem. Is this against ADA rules?

Although we would never be able to say whether someone has cause to bring a lawsuit (we’re not lawyers, and this doesn’t constitute legal advice!), we were intrigued by this question, because we’ve seen this too. Businesses will spend time and money getting the stencil painted on the concrete, which is a great way to draw attention to the importance of accessible parking, but then they’ll neglect to put up a sign, or to replace the sign if its damaged, faded, or stolen. However, the federal guidelines are pretty clear. An accessible spot must be marked with a sign designating the spot, as indicated in the 2010 ADA Standards:

502.6 Identification. Parking space identification signs shall include the International Symbol of Accessibility complying with 703.7.2.1. Signs identifying van parking spaces shall contain the designation “van accessible.” Signs shall be 60 inches (1525 mm) minimum above the finish floor or ground surface measured to the bottom of the sign.

(The Standards also state that access aisles must be marked with paint so that they’re clearly visible and not confused for parking spaces, but this is a different issue from how the parking space itself must be identified.)

This is the short answer, then, to Bob’s question: if the business in question is a public accommodation or commercial facility (and this Technical Manual can help identify which entities are covered by the ADA), then the spot should be marked with a sign, not just the stencil and pavement markings.

However, this begs the question: why do businesses bother with the pavement markings and wheelchair stencils if they’re not required? Well, a state or local municipality, or even a private business, can decide to go above and beyond the letter of the law when it comes to providing clear signage and directions to their customers, and we suspect that many do. For instance, the California Department of Transportation has an Accessibility Design manual that requires both the signage and the stencil for off-street parking, as you can see in technical document A90A.

We found another West Coast agency going above and beyond the requirements. The Oregon Transportation Commission updated their standards for accessible parking spaces in May of 2012. These apply to state highway parking spaces, and they require the minimum standard of both the sign, which follows the federal guidelines, and the pavement marking, featuring the International Symbol of Accessibility.

Over here on the East Coast, New Jersey has a slightly different requirement for parking spaces that are reserved for disabled persons. The state’s code specifies that the parking spaces and the access aisle must be painted (the language notes “most often blue”) to clearly mark them as ADA-compliant, noting that the pavement marking is required alongside the necessary sign and indication of penalty costs. These two modifications to the federal standard – requiring painted pavement and requiring an additional sign noting the penalty fine – are good examples of how a state may go above and beyond the minimum set by the ADA.

Handicap parking penalty sign for New Jersey

In New Jersey, additional signs are required to remind drivers of the penalties of using a disabled spot without the proper permit. [View this product here]

These are just a few examples. Of course, without knowing exactly where Bob is, and what state the company is located in, we couldn’t get too specific about whether that state has required businesses to also implement pavement markings, but one thing we know for sure – you’ve got to have that sign. Have you seen this type of signs versus stencil problem in your city? Let us know in the comments!


Category: Regulations

Comments (58)

  1. Frank Salsbury says:

    I would like some information on Can a ADA parking spot be temparily deleted.

    My work employee parking lot has the correct number of ADA parking spots for the 1200 parking spots. But the current number of employees is only around 150 employees. The building is closing in Nov and until then I would like the employees to be able to park closest to the building. We have two ADA employees left.

  2. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Frank- Thanks for the easy question! Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your employees can’t park in accessible parking spots without an accessible parking placard, ever, period. It’s a pretty serious fine no matter whether the lot is empty or full. ADA parking is based on the total number of parking spots in your lot, and I think you’d have a hard time fibbing about that, so you’re stuck with the lot you have. Maybe your employees will thank you for a slightly longer walk in the fresh air…?

  3. John O'Donnell says:

    Does the state of Va require both a sign and a painted stencil on the pavement for ADA compliant
    handy cap parking spaces?

  4. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, John- I believe that only the sign is required. If you happen to be in Fairfax County, then that’s definitely the case.

    The problem is, my source (here) implies that there’s some county-by-county variance in the state of Virginia. I would give your local DMV a call just to be 100% certain.

  5. Beatriz Tavera says:

    Does the state of Texas require the painted stencil on pavement for handy cap parking?

  6. Krissa says:

    Beatriz, the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (TMUTCD) does not require the pavement stencils — it suggests them as a supplemental option to the required signage if necessary:

    “Parking spaces signed as handicapped parking spaces may be supplemented with pavement markings where there is a suitable pavement surface.”
    [from page 94 of Section 2B, Regulatory Signage]

  7. Can handicapped spaces be reserved at a church?

  8. Rich says:

    Is a handicap parking space still valid if the building it serves is shut down?

  9. Ed Campbell says:

    I live in NJ. I received a summons for parking in a handicapped street parking spot. The signage is evidently for 6 parking spaces on the public street. There was one sign about 10 to 12 feet above the street on one pole. It did not show which spaces were handicapped and there were no blue painted handicapped symbols on the streets to tell you where the included area was. The parking spots I gather are not ADA compliant. I look at it from a handicapped perspective. If I can’t see it, how are handicapped people supposed to know where to park ?

  10. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Rich- If what you’re asking is whether people without disabilities can park in a spot marked for accessible parking if the building is unoccupied, the answer is that legally, no, they can’t. You can be ticketed for parking in any accessible parking spot, regardless of the lease or ownership status of any buildings nearby.

  11. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Ed- That’s a shame, and as you suspected, out of compliance. Each accessible parking spot has to be marked individually with a sign – you can’t just say “accessible parking zone” and call it a day. Check out this document – it sounds like those spots aren’t in compliance in any number of ways. NJ law does also require that accessible parking be marked with a color of paint (normally blue) that contrasts with other paint on the lot. I would take photos of the site and appeal your ticket – sounds like an easy win.

  12. Juan Garcia says:

    I live in torrance ca and received a handicap citation at my community college. I tried appealing as there was no sign infront of the space, the blue was fadded and there was a sign on the left spot space but was about 3-4 ft off the floor and not visible at all. I took pictures and will be presenting them at the hearing. Anything else I can use to avoid the citation?

  13. Juan Garcia says:

    Are these good arguments to fight the ticket? I greatly appreciate it!

  14. Kim says:

    Are there different requirements for small apartment complexes?

  15. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Kim! Can you please be more specific? Before I can answer your question fully, I need to know what state you’re in as well.

  16. mike says:

    My friend dropped of his dad at work he parked sideways in front of a building. There is no handicapped cap sign painted on the ground but there is a sign post but there are not individually set right on the parking spot to show that its a handicapped space there set behind the sidewalk. How do you know where to park or which space is handicapped space. And a trailer drove by and breaking his back light and left a dent behind his truck.

  17. mike says:

    This in minnestoa.

  18. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Mike! It’s hard to imagine what you’re describing – I’d have to see it.

    Without exception, though, each accessible parking spot has to be marked individually with a sign to be valid – you can’t use one sign to demarcate multiple spots. That’s specified in the Americans with Disabilities Act (and discussed here). If your friend was ticketed for parking without a disability placard, then it sounds like that might have been in error – but only if the place where he was parked was one of the spots that should have had a sign, and didn’t.

  19. Amber Wightman says:

    Dear Mike, I live in El Paso TX. My apt complex is called the Bungalows in case u need to check for dimensions, etc. My problem is aisle access to handicap parking space. There’s not enough room on the driver side for me to open my car door easily. I started parking further over, which is painted w white stripes, in order to be able to use my car. Apt mgt told me I can’t but didn’t offer a solution either Pls tell me what the TX regs are for aisle access dimensions on both sides of a car. thx in advance. Amber

  20. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Amber- Unless it would somehow change your apartment complex significantly to do so, they’re required to honor a request for reasonable accommodation or modification. There are more details here. Texas regulations aren’t relevant here because the Fair Housing Act is federal law.

    What that means is that you should write a letter to your management company, formally requesting a larger aisle. Keep a copy of your letter for your records. If they refuse, then hire a disability lawyer. Unless you’re asking them to destroy and rebuild their entire property or something similarly invasive, they’re generally required to accommodate you. The courts have adjudicated that restriping a lot is usually a reasonable accommodation – I’m not aware of an instance where it wasn’t!

  21. Cynthia Ronquillo says:

    I live in Sacramento California and at Target store they have two spots in front of the store that have no sign but are clearly painted on ground. I always use them. Today there was a car in the striped spot next to the driver side and right as I was leaving my car a car pulled into the striped spot next to the passenger side. I waited and told the guy he was not in a parking spot and it is going to be hard for me to get back in my car without that space and he told me that is no longer a disabled parking and he knows this because he was an ex-employee and walked away leaving his car parked there. I reported it to the store manager who told me that the disabled parking is on the other side of the parking lot and the spot I was in was no longer a disabled parking therefore anyone can park there. I pointed out that the spot was still clearly marked with a handicapped painted on the ground, except the pole was missing but the spots on either side were still clearly striped. Is this legal? Did the manager have the right to let people park on either side of this marked spot. Please help I’m very confused at this point.

  22. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Cynthia! If the question is, did the manager have the legal right to let people park in a striped access aisle of a formerly accessible parking spot, then technically yes, she did, as long as the manager also provided adequate accessible parking elsewhere on the lot.

    Note, however, that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires lot owners to locate accessible parking as close as possible to entrances/exits. That means that if the new parking was farther away from the entrance than the old parking spots, then the store was not in compliance.

    As long as the new parking spots were in the place mandated by the ADA, close to the entrance, then you should cut the store a little slack – but it sounds like the person who parked in the striped former access aisle should have cut you a little slack, too, and parked somewhere else! Having the legal right to do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

  23. mickey says:

    I live in Tampa Fl, does a parking stall have to be painted blue and stencil if their is a sign. Also no handicap ramp for this stall is that legal.

  24. Don Lakin says:


    I live in Nebraska and I would like to know if there is any laws against painting the Handicap Symbol with a glow paint ( to make it stand out ) or any states in the United States?

  25. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Don! That kind of issue is handled on a local level. I would ask your nearest DMV office; they should know about any city ordinances that affect accessible parking paints. In Nebraska statewide, though, there are requirements for what the signage looks like, but it looks like there are no regs governing the paint. (Mind you, I’ve only skimmed the relevant document, so you should take a look yourself – this doesn’t constitute legal advice. I’m just a guy on the internet.)

  26. Don Lakin says:

    Thanks for your advice Conrad, it really helps,

  27. Conrad Lumm says:

    Anytime, Don!

  28. Beryle Bird says:

    Constructed in 1998, we are a 58 unit condominium community in Utah with seven buildings (six units per building – four two-level units and two single story ground floor units). We also have eight two-unit condos. There are no elevators. Each two-level unit has an attached double garage. Each single story unit has two separate, attached, single garages. The single garages are not wide enough to accommodate a paraplegic and their driveways are on a slight slope. Does the HOA have to provide in our “guest only parking” a reserved handicapped parking space exclusively for our new paraplegic renter? Residents are not allowed to park in guest parking and we have no common areas for public use.

  29. Delores says:

    The same thing happened to me too! I live in NJ and have to appear in court tomorrow for parking in a handicapped parking space. The one sign placed in the area I parked is for 8 spaces and the lines are not painted a different color. Conrad, I reviewed the document which clearly states that the lines have to be a different color but have you found the actual code that shows that? Also, is there something in the ADA (or can you refer to the code number) that states each space must be individually marked with a sign?

  30. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Beryle-

    Reasonable accommodation parking requests like this are are usually handled on a case-by-case basis by the courts. Based on the information you gave us, it sounds like a reasonable accommodation to give the paraplegic tenant a reserved disabled parking space in the guest area. (But I’m not a lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt!) As a starting point, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal “to discriminate against any person … in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling” because of a person’s handicap. As part of the FHA, landlords have to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled, including modifying parking policies to allow residents equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. Providing a reserved disabled parking spot is one of those potential accommodations, especially if the burden on the HOA is low and the benefit to the renter is high. This would extend to the cost of repainting one parking space for the disabled tenant to use.

  31. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Delores!

    I can’t really address the specifics of your situation because that gets into territory where we’re offering legal advice, and I’m not a lawyer. Under the ADA, though, accessible parking meant for the public is required to be demarcated individually by signage if there are more than 3 parking spots total. There are some exceptions – if the parking was in a private lot reserved for someone else. Check ADA standards 502.6 and 216.5. Sorry I’m probably a bit too late to help you!

  32. Beryle Bird says:

    Thank you for your response.

  33. Ruthyann says:

    I have a question about employee ADA parking laws in Michigan. There are 18 spots for parking, 3 rows of 6 and of those one disabled parking spot.
    There are two business with one employee each and one worker has a disabled parking plate. The employees always park in the last row.
    My question is how should the employee parking be handled since there is only one disabled parking spot for customers.
    Can a disabled parking spot be marked off in the back row for the employee which is about 25′ further back while still be complaint?

  34. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Ruthyann! An accessible parking spot in the back row wouldn’t be compliant. Your lot as a whole already meets your state’s minimums (with one accessible spot for 18 total parking spots), you don’t really need to worry about that. The bigger issue is that an accessible spot that far back wouldn’t be serving its intended purpose very well. The main feature of accessible parking is that it’s close to the entrances it serves (so that people with disabilities don’t have to walk as far). You actually aren’t under an obligation to provide additional accessible parking for customers since there’s already the one spot, even though that spot is always occupied — but as you seem to have noticed, you should anyway. Accessible parking guidelines are minimums, not maximums, and if you want to support your customers and make it easy for them to shop, I would consider marking the front-row spot next to the existing accessible parking place with a sign as well. If the worst thing that happens is that someone who routinely uses it has to park somewhere else, well, that’s not the end of the world for the able-bodied!

  35. Ruthyann says:

    Can you say to an employee that they can’t park in the customer disabled parking spot? I am not sure how to handle the situation and be both respectable to my customers and employee.

  36. Conrad Lumm says:

    Telling an employee that would mean abridging their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I think restriping a spot close to the entrance and putting up an accessible parking sign is the best (and possibly only) solution.

  37. Ruthyann says:

    I think what we will do is make another disabled parking spot on the backside of the original one as the distance will be the same as if it were on the side of it. But my main question would be can I explain to the employee that the one is a customer and the other one is a employee disabled parking spot? Not sure if I would be crossing the line as we are only required to provide the one spot.

  38. Conrad Lumm says:

    Ruthyann, I’m no lawyer, but I would be very wary of just eyeballing distances to the entrance. It’s standard practice to have accessible spots side by side and not back to back, and although I don’t know for sure that your new spot wouldn’t be accessible, I’ve never seen a lot laid out like that, so I’m skeptical. Given that, I’m pretty sure that telling your employee where to park does cross the line. If the spot you added was even a tiny bit out of compliance, you would effectively be abridging their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Hate to be the bearer of bad news — don’t kill the messenger!)

  39. Ruthyann says:

    Yes we will be measuring to make sure of distances and if it was back to back then direct access right from the door to the sidewalk which is salted during winter as the lot is only plowed.

  40. Conrad Lumm says:

    Ruthyann, just to make sure I’m giving you correct advice, I’m going to ask an acquaintance who’s more familiar with Michigan law than I am about whether or not you’re permitted to designate a customers-only accessible parking spot – this can vary from state to state. I’ll respond again here in a few days.

  41. ron v says:

    Does the Fed. ADA state what color must be used for then stencil, lines ?

  42. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Ron-

    No, federal law only says that ADA spots have to have a sign, but some states do have guidelines for painting accessible spots. (State governments are allowed to make laws that are more restrictive than the ADA if they want to.) What state are you in?

  43. Ruthyann says:

    Was wondering if you had a chance to speak with him.

  44. Debbie Moore says:

    Not yet, but I should have an answer for you tomorrow. Thanks, and sorry, Ruthyann!

  45. Conrad Lumm says:

    Ruthyann, sorry it took me so long to get back to you! I’ve talked to my acquaintance who knows Michigan law better than I do, and he’s told me that it’s OK to tell customers not to park in the accessible employee space and vice-versa, provided that you’re otherwise meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act minimums. In your case, you would provide one customer-only accessible space, and one employee-only accessible space, and put up a sign to inform your customers about it.

  46. PR says:

    So I have a question that I can not seem to find the answer to. I was driving in a parking lot in Ohio where there are nutlike shops n few handicap signs. The back of the sign is white and I do not believe that it is 60 inches. It is presently snowing in Ohio and I did not see the sign. I ended up running over it and it caused damage to my car. No damage to the sign. Is there anyway I have a legal case since the sign is not of legal height?

  47. Mike Keegan says:

    My wife works at the Dayton VA Medical Center , two weeks ago when the weather turned crappy she parked in a disabled parking spot . I must add this was on a Saturday when the unit is closed except for one or two providers who see maybe 3-5 patients. The facility wa built in 2013 and the parking lot was redone at that time. In front of the Primary care unit there are some 60 parking spots for disabled persons , all have the painted emblem on the blacktop but there are no signs designating the parking spot. My wife was of course cited and I have to pay the $75 fine or appear in federal court on 3/01/2016 . My question , is the VA in violation of the ADA guideline / mandate that all parking spots must have a sign bearing the logo for disabled persons . 502.6 identification parking space signs . Shall comply with 703.7.2.1

  48. Debbie Moore says:

    Hi, Mike. Unfortunately I’m not a lawyer or in a position to give legal advice. I would point out that signage is the essential marker for accessible parking under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in part because blacktop tends to wear out or get snowed on, making stencils and emblems impossible to discern. While I’m not in the business of predicting what an administrative judge will or won’t do, I would recommend bringing current photos of the sign-free parking spots to your hearing along with the legal citations from the ADA. Those spots definitely don’t sound like they’re in compliance. Best of luck and please let us know what happens.

  49. Debbie Moore says:

    Hi, PR! I’m not a lawyer, and this isn’t legal advice. It’s not illegal for property owners to post signage that’s less than the 60″ minimum for being in compliance. Just because the sign is out of compliance doesn’t necessarily mean that the property owner will be liable for damage to your car. I would recommend talking to a lawyer, though – I’m on shaky ground here because parking lot liability issues are a little outside my area of expertise.

  50. Marilyn Marshall says:

    I like this site..informative. I do have a question.
    I live in an apartment complex in TN and requested a handicap parking spot as their stenciled emblem was so faded no one pays attention. They repainted it and advised other tenants in my unit must have handicap plate or sticker. However tenants must not tell their guests. When I advise management they said they cannot control what guests do…that is not fair to me who has a permanent placard….do they have to have a sign as I suggested since some people don’t pay attention to stenciled handicap?? Thanks

  51. Debbie Moore says:

    Hi, Marilyn-

    That’s an easy one. Accessible parking spots without signs are out of compliance. Some states require stencils, but signs are federal law.

  52. Donald Humphrey says:

    I live in Ohio. I have a city police officer parking in the handicapped parking space on the street in front of my house. The officer claims that the space is not properly marked because there is only the sign that the city erected and no other markings. The officer says that he is observing the school as it is letting out for the day. Is this legal?

  53. Kally says:

    Does the law in NYS state that there needs to be 2 handicap signs? 1 painted in the parking spot and 1 metal sign? Just need clarification of that please.

  54. Debbie Moore says:

    Hi, Kally- A stencil is common but not required. The sign is required, though.

  55. Donald Humphrey says:

    Huh — won’t touch the question. Is it because it is about the police breaking the law?

  56. Debbie Moore says:

    No, it’s because I don’t know the answer. 🙂 There are too many variables here: municipal code can affect whether noncompliant accessible parking spots are enforceable. Then there’s also the question of how this gets reported (you’d be calling the cops on the cops, and while that’s commendable and sometimes necessary, it also runs the risk of, shall we say, not being very successful). I don’t believe that Ohio requires stencils in order for an accessible parking spot to be enforceable, though for all I know your municipality may be different. I think this cop was probably just feeding you a line to get you to go away, and if you snap a few photos and show them to his boss, he’ll likely be asked to move, but I can’t guarantee that. In general, it’s notoriously hard to get police to enforce parking laws on police, whether in Ohio or New York.

  57. Lucy says:

    Does the law in the Maryland require both (1) painted stencil of international handicapped logo in the parking spot and (2) metal sign of penaltities for illegal parking?

  58. Jan says:

    In the area where I live they just built a new community fitness center. I was very surprised when I went there. The handicap spaces are further away from the main entrance than the regular parking spaces. Is there a law that states the handicap spaces should be as close to the main entrance as possible?

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