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Staying Between the Lines: ADA Parking Lot Requirements

Americans with Disability Act compliance isn’t just a matter of having ramps and elevators in buildings. The act applies to a number of other facilities, including parking lots. Understanding the law and properly maintaining parking lots with quality parking lot equipment to ensure compliance will help owners avoid government fines and penalties.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 53 million people in the U.S. live with a disability. The most common types of disabilities involve mobility limitations. About one in eight adults who are disabled have difficulty walking or climbing stairs. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a benefit to these men and women, ensuring they have equal access to opportunities enjoyed by the able-bodied.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability, much as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics unlawful. The law’s primary focus was labor, but it also covers access to public places. Under Title III of the law, people may not be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regard to their opportunity to enjoy public accommodations, including parking lots.

Disabled Driver in Parking Lot

Several federal agencies enforce the provisions of the ADA. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces labor-related regulations, the Department of Transportation enforces rules regarding transit, the Federal Communications Commission is responsible for communication-related enforcement, and the Department of Justice enforces rules regarding public accommodations.

There are other groups who take advantage of these regulations and seek out well intending business owners who haven’t completely adhered to ADA compliance, such as the placement of Handicapped signs.  These organizations profit by bringing lawsuits to property owners who provide ADA access, but don’t know all the rules of government legislation. A business with kind intentions may incur legal issues if the heights of their handicapped signs are below 6 feet.

The U.S. Department of Justice periodically publishes revised regulations regarding ADA compliance. The department issued new regulations in 2010, affecting public accommodations and commercial facilities, including parking lots.

Parking for the Disabled

Parking Spaces

Perhaps the biggest impact that the Americans with Disabilities Act has on parking lots and garages concerns the number of handicap accessible parking spaces these facilities must provide. The general rule of thumb is that one of every 25 parking spaces in a facility up to 500 spaces needs to be handicap accessible. Of those, one of every six handicap accessible spaces needs to be van accessible. This means that if you had a parking lot of 400 spaces, you’d need eight handicap spaces, two of which would need to be van accessible.

The new rules also mandate how large parking spaces for the disabled must be. According to the regulations, accessible parking spaces must be no less than eight feet wide. Van-accessible spaces must be no less than 11 feet wide. Van-accessible spaces may be eight feet wide if their access aisles are also eight feet wide.

Disabled Parking Space

Accessible spaces must provide adjacent access aisles that are no less than five feet wide. These aisles are intended to provide sufficient room for individuals to load and unload wheelchairs, scooters, and other mobility devices, and to deploy those devices. The rules mandate that access aisles must be painted with hatch marks to provide adequate identification of their status as access aisles and to prevent other motorists from parking there.

According to the rules, the accessible spaces and access aisles must have smooth and stable surfaces, and must be level to ensure the safety of individuals with disabilities. In addition to these requirements, van-accessible spaces and access aisles must also provide vertical clearance of at least 98 inches to accommodate the height of most vehicles that are equipped with wheelchair lifts.


Signage is an important part of ADA regulations. Proper parking signs provide a universally understandable method of recognizing handicap accessible parking. According to the 2010 DOJ regulations, accessible parking spaces must be identified with signs that include the International Symbol of Accessibility. For van-accessible spaces, signs must also carry the phrase “van-accessible.” Parking facilities owners seeking proper signage should work with a well-established vendor to find signs that are fully compliant with the law.

The DOJ regulations say the lower edge of the sign must rest at least five feet above the ground, allowing the sign to be appropriately visible to police and motorists. Parking lots with fewer than four spaces do not have to have the signs, and neither do residential facilities where residents are assigned parking spaces.

Equal Access

Existing Facility Safe Harbor

Contrary to popular belief, Americans with Disabilities Act enforcement is reasonable, in regard to businesses with existing parking lots. Many existing facilities that comply with the 1991 ADA standards are grandfathered in under the new 2010 rules. Owners of these facilities do not have to immediately make changes to their facilities to meet new requirements. However, if facility owners alter or renovate their lots, they will likely need to take steps to bring their lot into greater compliance with the new 2010 standards.

Disabled Parking Symbol





Other Accommodations

Parking lot facility owners may need to provide other accommodations to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. For example, they may need to create a curb ramp to allow patrons using wheelchairs access to the street or sidewalk. Parking decks and garages may need to provide elevators and ramps, and proper signage as well. In general, owners of existing facilities will not have to make major changes to their facilities unless they renovate them, but checking with a building code inspector and documenting these efforts is always helpful in the event of a lawsuit. Builders of new facilities will need to ensure that their parking decks or garages are fully compliant with new standards, and that proper parking lot equipment is used, including ADA-compliant signs.

State Regulations Apply

The ADA isn’t the only regulation that owners of parking lots need to consider. Many states and municipalities have their own rules that go above and beyond what is required by the federal government.

For example, California has very stringent rules concerning parking lot access, while other states like Alabama have few or no regulations of their own. To ensure your facilities are compliant, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your local or state building code inspector. The building code inspector can help you determine whether your parking lot or garage complies with all federal and local standards concerning parking lot access and signage.

Disabled Sign

Non-Compliance Costs

Non-compliance with ADA rules regarding parking facilities can be quite costly for their owners. Owners of non-compliant facilities can face not only federal fines and penalties, they may also face lawsuits from disabled people or their advocates.

Compliance is particularly important for facilities owners in the state of California, where ADA issues are very litigious. Nearly 40 percent of all ADA accessibility lawsuits are filed in California.

New York and Florida are also frequent venues for disability access lawsuits. Most of these lawsuits settle for around $10,000, but, if multiple plaintiffs are involved, costs can quickly rise. Add on the cost of remediating a non-compliant parking lot after a lawsuit, and the price of non-compliance quickly becomes untenable for most parking lot owners.

Facilities can also take significant public relations hits from not being in compliance with regulations intended to protect the rights of the disabled. Working with code inspectors and parking lot professionals can help ensure that parking lots don’t run afoul of ADA regulations or state rules.

ParkingZone provides the parking supplies and parking lot equipment needed to ensure your parking lot complies with the ADA and other laws and regulations. In business since 1987, ParkingZone has built a reputation for providing superior parking lot, traffic enforcement, and event management products. Whether you’re looking for valet parking supplies, barricades, or gorilla post solutions, ParkingZone has you covered with an ample stock of durable, reliable products.


ParkingZone provides the parking supplies and parking lot equipment needed to ensure your parking lot complies with the ADA and other laws and regulations.

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