What Qualifies as a Disability?

By: Alicia Sparks July 17, 2012
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Each state sets its own criteria for qualifying disabilities.

(By “qualifying,” we mean disabilities that qualify for special disabled parking placards or handicapped license plates – see below.)

To find out for sure, check your state’s disabled driver information.

Most states consider drivers disabled if they:

  • Don’t have full use of one or both arms.
  • Can’t walk a set number of feet without stopping to rest. Some states set this number as low as 50; others, as high as 200.
  • Can’t walk without using a cane, crutch, brace, prosthetic device, wheelchair, or the assistance of another person.
  • Have a Class III or Class IV cardiac condition, as set by the American Heart Association.
  • Must have portable oxygen to walk.
  • Have a visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses.
  • Have a visual acuity of 20/200 but with a limited field of vision in which the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle of 20 degrees or less.

Obtaining Disabled Placards or Handicapped License Plates

Again, states vary, but typically parking permits are for folks with temporary disabilities and license plates are for people with permanent disabilities.

If you qualify as a disabled driver – whether temporarily or permanently – grab an application for handicap placards or license plates at your local DMV or motor vehicle registration agency. (Usually, these agencies provide the applications for download from their websites, too.). You can also refer to our dedicated state-specific page for drivers with disabilities to possibly access the form online.

Remember to:

  • Complete the entire application, leaving blank only the part your doctor must complete.
  • Have your physician or certifying practitioner sign off on your handicap. Your application should be clear about the types of qualifying medical professionals, but if you’re confused or there’s limited information, contact your DMV.
  • Ask about identification requirements and fees.
  • Be clear on renewal requirements. Typically, handicapped placards are good for a few months (usually around six) and disabled license plates last for a year or two (or however long your state’s standard registration period lasts).
  • Keep your placard with you; your plate with your vehicle. In other words, if you get a disabled placard, usually you can use it in any vehicle you’re in; however, if you get handicapped plates, those plates are registered to that vehicle and must stay with that vehicle.

Have you ever had to apply for a temporary parking placard or permanent disabled driver license plate? How involved was the process for you?

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