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

March 28, 2013
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