WA Department Of Licensing Bundles Handicapped Parking Placard Requests With Red Tape, Then Breaks State Law

wa-compliant-handicapped-parking-signBy Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

The archetype of bureaucracy is often associated with the Departments of Licensing / Departments of Motor Vehicles in various states. Washington’s contribution for this year manifested in the issuance of handicapped parking placards–the cards that hang from mirrors. It most certainly adds insult to citizens’ injuries who need the placards due to restricted mobility when the Washington Department of Licensing changed rules to supposedly address alleged fraud (which I personally have a difficult time accepting is rampant).  But the DOL in doing so created a system that is easily circumvented and worse added another layer of delay for legitimate users by failing to announce changes to forms and procedures; thus requiring untold number of citizens to schedule new appointments with their doctors due to the agency’s bureaucratic rigidity and nonsensical new procedures.


I first became aware of the problem when my sister and I needed to obtain handicapped parking placards for our mother, who is disabled and also unable to drive. Due to her limited mobility, both of us needed a placard to hang on the mirror when we drive her around visiting various businesses. My sister completed the Department of Licensing (DOL) forms that the doctor had in her office, and her physician signed.

My sister then went to the DOL to receive the placard and was told by the employee that the form was invalid because it was the old form. Two or three weeks prior, the DOL changed the form (which differed by only a few sentences in the declaration) and they would no longer accept the old. They were unwilling to implement a transition period where both would be accepted. Of course few knew about the changed form because DOL failed to make sufficient effort to inform the public. The employee stated also they could not take the old form because the legal language had changed and said she would have to get Mom’s doctor to complete the form again with additional paperwork.

So this necessitated another visit to my mother’s doctor, which of course could lead to an office visit paid by Medicare and her Medicare Advantage plan, billed completely unnecessarily, as well as one patient time slot being denied to another patient needing to see the doctor. All this because a DOL bureaucrat and the department had to have the correct piece of paperwork to which in the end accomplished the exact same outcome my mother needed; a complete waste of time for certain.

Though we eventually received the two placards, we certainly were not alone. The problem began to spread to other, handicapped individuals in the state.

Seattle’s KOMO News published an article that brought more light to the red tape surrounding the DOL’s practices.

The article describes how a patient afflicted with cystic fibrosis needed to renew her handicapped parking placard. The process resulted in a month long delay with problems stemming from the DOL’s red tape blunders. The patient brought the DOL form to her doctor but did not notice in the fine print that a change now required a written prescription to receive the placard. The form otherwise looked like the standard form used the last time.  The new form lacked any easily discoverable text alerting patients and physicians of the new prescription requirement.

Of course, the DOL rejected her renewal application and this required the patient to make another appointment with her doctor.

Unfortunately for the patient, this would not be the only obstacle. On her second appointment her doctor informed her he was unable to print a paper prescription because their medical records system lacks a prescription code for a Handicapped Parking Placard. Lacking the ability to write a prescription acceptable to the DOL the doctor instead printed a list of her medications and their purpose to indicate the presence of cystic fibrosis. Again, the DOL rejected this information and stated they would need a signed letter bearing the clinic’s letterhead.

Unfortunately, there was an additional delay because her doctor would be out of the office on holiday. She feared if she did not receive a renewal on her handicapped parking placard, she could receive a $250.00 fine for using an expired placard while parking. Though it is in my opinion highly unlikely a law enforcement officer would write such a ticket for one being expired for a few weeks, she would be technically in legal jeopardy if she did so.

KOMO called the DOL’s spokesman David Bennett who claimed he had never heard of any complaints regarding the new prescription system, whether or not he was privy to the information remains to be discovered, but he stated an electronic prescription system was available at the time of the changeover. I believe however it is probable given how poorly DOL notified people of the change that not every health care provider knew of its existence at the time and the fact that the patient’s doctor worked at the University of Washington Medical Center and they were unaware of the changeover.

Since this experience the patient’s clinic updated procedures to provide this prescription.

The DOL’s new procedures are such that can be thwarted with relative ease.

DOL requires that a Tamper Evident paper be used for a written prescription, however if this type of format is not available to the health care provider they may sign a declaration on an official letterhead document from their organization stating that the written prescription is not available. These requirements are so easily thwarted it is almost laughable. A forger could easily claim that their fake doctor does not have such this type of paper prescription and concoct a letterhead document themselves. He must be sure to make it an original forgery complete with a signature as copies of documents are not accepted.  Assumingly, DOL can make a phone call to the number listed on the forged document’s letterhead, but I have to wonder how much of a genuine effort DOL employees will make on this given their caseload and waiting lines.

Since the DOL seems to prefer that rules must be followed with absolutely no exception, aligning with the bureaucrat’s automatous mindset, I was dismayed that in my research in compiling this article I discovered that the DOL broke state law in creating the new design of the handicapped placard.

Here is a picture of the former handicapped parking placard, courtesy of KOMO News:

Placard With International Symbol of Access

Now, the new placard design:

Placard with Modified International Symbol of Access

The most pertinent design change, obviously, is the replacement of the International Symbol of Access with a more kinetic illustration. The new design stems from the Accessible Icon project’s effort to redefine the image of the disabled and handicapped from a sedentary disposition to that fostering accomplishment and the will to go forth despite limitations. The symbol is recognized in the State of New York.

The recognized symbol, two images above, is the defined, internationally recognized symbol codified under ISO-7001. The bottom is the Modified International Symbol of Access. In May of 2015 the United States Federal Highway Administration rejected the “Modified ISA” symbol (used in New York) for display on signs in the United States. The International Standards Organization, which is responsible for maintaining ISO-7001, refused its recognition. The International Symbol of Access is also a codified symbol in Washington under RCW 70.92.120.

Where the DOL gets into trouble is when it approved the state handicapped parking placards having the Modified ISA in its design. State law mandates the DOL to use the recognized International Symbol of Access on the placard under RCW 46.19.030 which reads in pertinent part:

RCW 46.19.030
Display and design of placards, license plates, and year tabs. (Effective July 1, 2015.)

(1) The department shall design special license plates for persons with disabilities, parking placards, and year tabs displaying the international symbol of access.

So despite its insistence the public completely adhere to its red tape and bureaucratic lockstep, it failed to simply read and follow the only law codified in the Revised Code of Washington affecting design, and it violated state law by making a new, politically correct but non-compliant image of the disability symbol. This folks is government at its most stereotypical

For those Washingtonians who had to go through all the inconvenience, cost, runs-around, and frustration caused by your trusted Department of Licensing, you can now rest easy now that you have been granted the privilege of having a non-compliant handicapped placard for your parking needs.  Your tax dollars were certainly well invested.

By Darren Smith


Chapter 46.19 RCW
RCW 70.92.120
Washington Department of Licensing

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

36 thoughts on “WA Department Of Licensing Bundles Handicapped Parking Placard Requests With Red Tape, Then Breaks State Law”

  1. As I’ve been seeing these “new and improved” handicapped placards in Seattle I became curious about them; they look fake to me, like something bought off the internet (this kind of printing becoming so easy to do these days). A quick Google image search led me to this post.

    My experience in getting my placard: As I was being released from the hospital (Jan 2015) after losing a leg I was given the old form for a Temporary Disabled placard. I laughed and asked if they thought I’d grow a new leg, and they explained that they always wrote a temp first because then there were likely to be fewer issues in getting a permanent placard. When the temp was about to expire I mentioned it to my Dr’s office when I made an appt for a follow-up visit (if I didn’t need to visit they would have been perfectly fine with just mailing everything to me). I got a temporary again, because the RX was now required and nobody in the office was clear on the new rules, and a temp was just easier (and this is a massive local hospital group owned by another massive local health care group, you’d think the DOL would’ve done a better job of informing them). I expect to get a permanent placard when this one expires (there are going to be times I can’t wear my leg and will need to be in a wheelchair). It should also be pointed out for readers not in WA that the DOL generally doesn’t handle anything related to car licensing (plates/tabs, registrations, title transfers, disabled placards, etc) at their local offices. They farm this work out to “Licensed Subagents”, private businesses that take a small fee for each transaction. People generally go to one of these places because they’re all over whereas DOL offices are few and far between. The DOL offices handle drivers licenses and sometimes testing (unless you want to pay to do the testing at a private driving school). It’s a convoluted system ripe for errors.

    This brings me to issue two: I had renew my drivers license recently. I set aside time in my day to go to the DOL (Dept of Licensing, Wa’s DMV). It was one of the unseasonably hot days so I wore shorts for my comfort (for those unfamiliar with the mechanics of a below knee prothetic leg: I wear a PUV sleeve over my limb, a wool 3-ply sock over that, followed by a carbon fiber socket; then I a rubber gaiter, and finally a silicone and fabric sealing sleeve with a vacuum secures everything to my leg. It gets hot). I got my number from a DOL employee at the front desk and sat down to wait. Thirty minutes later I’m called to the window and start renew my license. They have me take a seat again to wait for the interviewer for my “enhanced license”. About 30 seconds later I get called back up by the DOL employee I just talked with. “I just notice you have a prosthetic leg. How long have you had that?” I may or may not have been fully honest in my answer. Then she started to ask if I’d taken the driving test with my leg. I was ambiguous with my answer but she kept trying to insist I needed to retake the driving test. I pointed out that it was my left leg that was missing so it posed no problem to driving (I didn’t mention I drive a stick with no issues, or my motorcycle. Why complicate things). She kept insisting I would need to retake the driving portion of my test (which would involve making an appt at a DOL outside of Seattle, and then coming back to this DOL for my “enhanced license” after I passed). I asked her if I’d worn long pants and she hadn’t seen my leg if I would’ve been asked to retake the test. “No.” So I asked if it was only because she saw and perceived me as having a disability that I needed to retake the test: she started waffling. I asked what the rule of law was requiring me to retake the test. I got my license without retaking the drive test.

    There is no rule. I already knew this. I was even prepared because when I renewed my license in 2001 I had rode my motorcycle and was grilled for wearing a back protector.

    The issue I have is that these petty plenipotents at the DOL are ignorant of the state laws. It may not be a violation of the ADA to only ask about disability if it’s visible (because driving is a privilege, not a right), but it seems safe to say there’s the potential for abuse. And there are plenty of invisible disabilities that can be far more problematic to driving than a prosthetic limb is (TBI comes to mind: concussion, stroke, PTSD, etc). The only medically required reporting is for seizures — but those have to be in front of medical personnel and even then the reporting may not happen. The state really should draw up some explicit guidelines and have administrative codes for the DOL to follow.

    Rant over

    1. Adam – my brother was born with spina bifida and used hand controls to drive. Every few years he would be required to take a full physical to prove that he had not been to Lourdes and been cured.

  2. “How far can one stretch something to suit an almost completely remote and perhaps not even appropriate issue?” You’ve certainly missed the point, which is that the same organization that screwed up something so simple, that added even more steps to an existing, working process with no additional benefit and which, as a result, produced a product that now violates state law, will not be capable of handling something so complex as health care. There is a link, and that link is the same administrative body called government. If this happens for a parking tag, why wouldn’t it happen many times over for health care?

  3. Bill H.

    You do bring up a good observation about having only one placard for the disabled person with her.

    There is the issue where a handicapped person might need assistance unexpectedly at a location other than home, requiring one of their caretakers to come and pick them up. In that situation the patient might not have it in their possession since the placards are somewhat large to be carried easily at all times.

    The DOL made references in other forums where they claim that some were taking the second placards with them for their personal use when they were not handicapped. I found personally this claim to be not substantiated on a large basis. I further believe that the 99% of every truly handicapped person needing two cards is a benefit our society needs to maintain without the state burdening the handicapped for a problem that really is minor in occurrence.

    1. Darren – I find that the number of handicapped stickers is out numbered by the number of handicapped parking slots. The result is empty spaces.

  4. BillH, I agree w/ the general point of your last paragraph. I think the faux drama on “reality” TV shows, which are quite popular w/ many people, fosters this dynamic.

  5. @Nick, I wasn’t suggesting that a second placard was not legitimate, I was just wondering why the need for a major freakout over getting the second one. Seemed like a lot of angst and anger over a minor issue, given that the one placart already posessed by the mother could actually serve the purpose.

    We seem, in this nation, to spend a lot of time and energy freaking out over really minor stuff.

  6. BillH, I helped a woman drive her disabled husband to medical appointments, shopping, etc. She had an extra placard for me to keep. It was simply for convenience. I just kept it in my console. I surmise this is one way of abusing the privilege. Being a walker and health conscious, I always park in distant spots to get those extra steps. I also walk stairs rather than elevators whenever possible. But, I can see how having that placard could be tempting for some, and I’m certain it is abused. Logistically, having 2 placards is legit IMHO.

  7. Just as a point of information, since both of you are driving the same person to the doctor, why the need for two placards? Why is it not sufficient to have one placard, which stays with your mother and is used by which everperson is driving her?

  8. Barkin, You sound like a hound dog I might hire. When I had dogs, I would sometimes take them w/ me on surveillance. They helped deflect suspicion. A guy w/ a dog[golden or springer] is not suspicious or threatening.

  9. There is a handicapped space out in front of Gold’s Gym. Some of the folks with stickers go in and work out. Some jog on a treadmill. Then they go out and get in the car in the convenient space.

  10. DBQ

    “Again showing your lack of imagination and unwillingness to acknowledge that not everyone is living in the environment that YOU are or with which you are familiar.”

    You mean the ‘here and now’?

  11. Our Canadian friend has some fascism in him that pops out on some subjects. Crime is one, he wants to “wax” people for many offenses. Apparently he is a handicap parking sheriff. He might want to “wax” someone he thinks is violating handicap spots. The truth is there are people who abuse handicap parking all the time. I’m reminded of UCLA football players who stole handicap stickers so they could get to their classes last second. The truth is also, you can’t always tell if someone is righteously handicapped by first glance. I have a unique perspective, I have done surveillance on MANY[hundreds] of people who had handicap slots for back, leg, neck, injuries and videotaped them water skiing, playing softball, pulling engines out of cars, you name it.

  12. Inga – I have yet to see anyone complain about a handicapped person using a sticker. It is the abled people taking advantage of a relative’s sticker that makes me mad.

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