Posted on: November 9, 2012

In every parking lot across Laurel, there are blue lines and warning signposts by tantalizingly empty parking spaces reserved for people with a registered disability…spaces, one might rationalize, that seem never to fill up, so, therefore: Why shouldn’t I park there?

But, in fact, when people park in a spot neither created nor at anytime meant for them, they contribute to handicap parking abuse, an unfortunate phenomenon that in this day and age seems to be worsening each year.

Billy Joe “Doc” Seals expressed his concern at the Laurel City Council meeting on November 6. Seals explained that as a physically-challenged person, he is often frustrated when trying to find handicap-accessible parking. He said there are plenty of drivers who park in handicapped spaces with no placards.

Seals, 78, knows first-hand what is like living with a disability. At the age of 15, Seals was in the hospital for three years after he broke the upper part of his right femur bone. He was issued a pair of crutches and now gets around with the aid of a rolling walker. Despite his challenges, Seals went on to graduate from Oak Park High School in 1956 and Jackson State University in 1960 because he was “determined nothing was going to stop me.”

Billy Joe “Doc” Seals is an advocate for people with disabilities living in Laurel.

Seals has become an advocate for people with disabilities in Laurel. “I’m not different than anybody else,” Seals professed, “It’s just that my needs are different.”

Parking abuse exists in two primary forms: obviously, the first is when a person who does not have a disability parks in a handicap space. The second is when placards are in the hands of individuals that are not disabled.

In both instances, the problem is a lack of repercussions. Because punishment for parking abuse is marginal and seldom doled out, there exists little incentive not to exploit the parking system.

In Mississippi, it is illegal to park in a handicapped parking space without the placard or license. If you are caught parking illegally, the fine for a first or second offense is $200. If you are convicted more than twice, you are subject to license suspension of 90 days and additional fines. These penalties will not be waived or suspended.

There certainly is plenty of frustration for non-disabled parkers who sometimes feel some that the disability placards are being abused. It may appear that some people with placards don’t look like they need the handicap designation.

Mississippi residents who are disabled can apply for a disabled parking tag or placard.  A licensed physician or a nurse practitioner must claim that one or more of the following describe your disability:

  • You have trouble walking more than 200 feet without having to stop for a break.
  • You are unable to walk at all without an assistive device such as a wheelchair, cane, or walker.
  • You have lung disease and such difficulty breathing that your forced expiratory volume for one second is less than one liter by measurement of spirometry, or your arterial oxygen tension does not exceed 60 mm/hg on room air at rest.
  • You use portable oxygen.
  • You suffer from a cardiac condition that limits your functionality so much so that you are classified, by standards set by the American Heart Association, in severity as a Class III or Class IV.
  • Arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic conditions greatly affect your ability to walk.

It is a serious misuse of license plates and permits for the disabled when someone other that the person with a disability uses the plates or permit to park in a space reserved for people with disabilities. These license plates or parking permits are valid only when the person with a disability who received the plates or permit is driving the vehicle or is a passenger in it.

If you misuse plates or a parking permit or allow someone else to use them, the DMV may revoke the license plates or the locality that issued the permit may revoke the permit, or they may deny renewal.

Even when a car bearing no permit blatantly misuses a parking spot, backlash rarely occurs. It is very difficult for law enforcement officials to keep up with the rapidly growing number of violators. Also, regardless of how well the city enforces their disabled parking spaces, law enforcement cannot be everywhere…all the time. As a consequence, people who need those parking spaces to accomplish necessary daily tasks—purchasing groceries, visiting the doctor, etc.—are unable to get them. 

Bystanders, though unable to arrest abusers, can report them. Reports can be made by notifying the police of the violation or through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Reports should provide the license plate number of the offending vehicle and the placard number, if applicable. Free downloadable phone apps like Parking Mobility empowers private citizens to report a violation. For more information, please visit