Handicap Stencils Make Pavement Marking Simple

An Overview of Handicapped Parking

By now, you must be familiar with the international symbol of accessibility. Conceived in 1969 as an entry in a competition whose purpose it was to generate interest in the collective plight of disabled persons, the symbol is now found everywhere, from the surfaces of doors to the pavement of parking lots. It is the icon of a wheelchair with a circle on top to denote the head of a man. Placed alongside the common “man” and “woman” icons that you see before public restrooms, it looks like some kind of strange third alien creature. Even if you saw it as nothing more than a person in a wheelchair, the fact that it is supposed to stand for handicapped individuals in general is curious, considering that only about 10 percent of such persons in the United States needs to use a wheelchair. Still, it is the most common representation, and all we seem to have, for now.

The stencil for the handicapped symbol is in precisely this shape, and it is typically painted in the special parking slots that are reserved for the disabled, which slots you find in practically any parking lot that you encounter. These handicapped parking spaces are mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires a certain minimum number of parking slots be allocated to cater to disabled persons. This number starts at one for parking lots of 25 spaces or less, and gradually increases as the total amount of available parking space grows. There is also a set number of spaces that must be modified for the use of vans with elevators for wheelchairs. In all instances, handicapped parking spaces should be provided with access lanes to the building that is being serviced by the parking lot, and are wider than normal parking spaces to accommodate wheelchair users. The access lanes are themselves painted in stripes so that they are not mistaken as parking spaces by passing drivers who think they’ve gotten very lucky in their search for a slot.

The problem with the international symbol of accessibility, the fact that it misrepresents disability as a whole by equating it with wheelchair use, is a concern that is gradually being resolved by the efforts of the handicapped community and able-bodied persons sympathetic to their cause. An easy alternative is to simply use the word “HANDICAP” instead, so that all persons with a handicap of some sort, whether physical or mental, are covered by the special parking privilege. The word can readily be prepared on available letter stencils, and painted in lieu of the wheelchair icon. Another icon that is slowly gaining ground is the use of an “A” in the center of a box, with the “A” standing for Accessibility or Access. It is hoped that these less discriminatory options will eventually be rotated into greater circulation, and the wheelchair icon slowly phased out. In the meantime, however, the wheelchair icon’s popularity keeps it a staple in the average parking lot, and as an indicator of a statutory mandate, should be duly respected.