The History of Handicapped Parking

by James Rada, Jr.
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handicapped parking space and sign image by TMLP from

More than 53 million Americans have one or more physical disabilities. In the past, they had not protections under the law to ensure that they had access to the same services as a non-handicapped person. That all changed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. One of the sections under this law specifically addresses the need to have handicapped parking spaces.

Civil Rights Movement

Protections for handicapped citizens grew out of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. Despite the fact that three major pieces of legislation concerning civil rights were passed during that decade, handicapped citizens were not included as a protected class of citizens. It did lay the groundwork for future legislation however, because civil rights legislation dealt with preventing discrimination and making accommodations for equal access.

Title VIII

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination in housing on the basis of race, religion, national origin and sex of the person living in the house. The need for legislation to protect handicapped citizens was recognized in 1988 when people with disabilities and families with children were added to Title VIII.


The first version of the Americans with Disabilities Act was introduced to Congress in 1988. It was a result of a report from the National Council on Disability two years earlier that recommended a comprehensive law that would require equal opportunities for disabled citizens. A second version of the ADA was introduced the following year as more amendments were made and other changes considered. The Senate passed their version on Sept. 7, 1989, and the House of Representatives passed its version on May 22, 1990. The two bills then had to be reconciled to make one comprehensive bill.


President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. Three thousand disability rights advocates, members of Congress and other officials attended the signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. Bush described the law as, "the world's first comprehensive declaration of the equality of people with disabilities, and evidence of America's leadership internationally in the cause of human rights. With today's signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, every man woman and child with a disability can now pass through once closed doors, into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom."

Parking Regulations

Within the law is section 4.6 Parking and Passenger Loading Zones. It is this section that set into motion the creation of parking spaces reserved for handicapped drivers. The law determined that the spaces needed to be on the shortest route to an entrance, which meant that they were the closest spaces to the business. It also determined that the spaces need to be wider than regular parking spaces with an aisle next to them, that the spaces cannot be on a steep slope and need to be designed as handicapped parking.

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