Who Taught YOU to drive?

More questions, answers on disabled-parking regulations

Issues raised by readers include terminology, time limits

By Peter DeMarco
September 26, 2010

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Few of my columns have elicited as much response as last month’s rundown on handicapped parking. Or should I say, parking for people with disabilities. The terminology itself is as tricky to pin down as some of the laws.

Those in the disability community say “handicapped’’ is an antiquated word, a bygone reference to the disadvantaged who held a “cap in hand’’ looking for alms.

The actual origin of the word has nothing to do with begging, according to a University of Hawaii professor, Ron Amundson, who traced “handicap’’ to a 14th-century bartering game. But it’s such a prevalent urban myth that it might as well.

The preferred term is disabled, says Kenneth Bonacci, a former member of the Salem Disability Commission.

We should all be saying parking for the disabled, drivers who are disabled, and license plates for the disabled, he says. But our state laws haven’t been updated to reflect this change: They still contain the word handicapped, and as such, it is perpetuated on parking signs, on parking tickets, in the newspaper, and beyond.

“I try to not use the word handicapped . . . but people do identify with it,’’ says Jeff Dougan, assistant director for community services for the state’s Office on Disability. “If you say ‘accessible parking’ people might think that’s just a good place to park. When you say handicapped parking, they know what it means.’’

This week, back by popular demand, we answer more questions about disabled parking issues.

■ Are disabled parking spots exempt from winter parking bans? This question comes from a Medford resident who wanted to know whether she could park in the marked space in front of her house even when opposite-side parking rules are in effect during winter.

The answer is probably not, says Naomi Goldberg, unit manager of client services for the Office on Disability.

“You can’t just ignore the rules because you have a handicapped spot,’’ Goldberg says, adding that state law is silent on the matter. “But that person should contact the city and ask whether there’s some kind of accommodation that can be made for her.’’

■ Are cars with placards or plates exempt from hourly time limits? Drivers with disabled plates and placards can park as long as they want, for free, at metered spots.

However, what happens when there are no meters on a street, but signs restrict parking to an hour or two? Malden, for example, has a one-hour parking limit on the streets around City Hall.

According to Dougan, meters or not, time limits on street parking spots don’t apply to motorists with a disabled placard or plate.

“You can park there from 8 to 6, even if there’s a two-hour limit. That’s right in the Massachusetts General Laws,’’ he says.

“The only exception is if the parking space changes to residential parking. Say it’s residential parking after 6 p.m.,’’ he says. If a nonresident were “to park there after that, they could ticket or tow them.’’

Can an individual have both a disabled plate and a placard? You’re supposed to choose one or the other, says Ann Dufresne, spokeswoman for the Registry of Motor Vehicles. But there’s some leeway here, as the registry grants temporary placards on request to people who possess disabled plates.

Temporary placards are valid up to two years.

Can someone without a valid driver’s license apply for a disabled plate?

No. The plate’s holder must be the registered owner of the vehicle, and the insurance industry requires registered owners to hold a driver’s license, Dufresne says. However, you don’t need a valid driver’s license to obtain a placard, she noted.

Are there any differences between a disabled placard and a disabled plate? No differences in terms of parking privileges.

Placards are free to those who qualify.

Disabled plates cost the same as standard auto registrations, but specific disabilities — loss of multiple limbs, for instance — may qualify the recipient for breaks on vehicle excise or sales taxes.

Parents of disabled children also may qualify for such breaks, which can help offset the cost of vehicle modifications.

Why do drivers with a disabled veterans plate have to pay for MBTA parking? This question comes from reader Janice Josephine Carney, a Somerville native and disabled Vietnam War veteran.

“I park in Sullivan Square whenever I go into Boston. Their rates have gone up again,’’ she wrote.

State law mandates free parking for the disabled at metered street spaces because the meters might not be physically accessible, Dougan says. Parking lots, either public or private, are allowed to charge all users as long as the ticket booth or ticket apparatus is physically accessible, though.

“I know some municipalities did waive the fee for disabled drivers using their parking lots, but they’re not required to,’’ Dougan says. “Now, with all these budget crunches, everyone’s paying to park.’’

Will the state create street maps showing the location of disabled parking spots? We raised this question in our last column, but the answer is no: Massachusetts doesn’t have the means to create such maps, Dougan says.

The best bet for the creation of such maps are local governments; for example, Eugene, Ore., has created an iPhone app called EPark showing disabled parking spots, and closer to home, Cambridge is preparing to add a map to its city website.

A company called Parking Mobility (, meanwhile, has a smartphone app that allows drivers to report the locations of disabled parking spots no matter what their hometown.

The information is reflected on an electronic map available to anyone using the appli-cation.

Peter DeMarco can be reached at He also updates a Facebook page, “WhotaughtYOUtodrive?’’