Valid Anywhere but Next Door

By John Kelly
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, England, is one of those opulent historic properties that British nobles open to fee-paying visitors. Why, they even let Americans in.

Don Vitale is one of those Americans. The 72-year-old Colesville resident has a couple of herniated discs in his back that make walking distances or carrying heavy objects difficult. Because of this, the state of Maryland issued him a handicapped placard that allows him to park in specially designated spaces. It's something Don takes with him when he travels.

When Don visited Blenheim last July, the parking attendant there pointed him toward a row of spaces out in a nearby field. It was only when Don asked if there were any closer spaces that the attendant saw Don's placard and directed him to a spot right near the palace's wall.

"He was very apologetic that I hadn't been directed to it earlier," Don said.

That's the power of the placard.

Don has used his mighty placard while steering rental cars through all sorts of countries. "Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium," he said. "I may have left somebody out there."

He's also used it in countless of these United States. There's one place he hasn't used it, however: the District of Columbia. That's because D.C. -- alone among U.S. jurisdictions -- doesn't recognize anyone's placards but its own.

"It just doesn't make sense," Don said.

He's not alone in feeling this way. "Basically, every other jurisdiction in the U.S. recognizes parking permits issued by other jurisdictions," said Kathleen Walsh of the Equal Rights Center.

"In Virginia, you can use a handicapped parking permit issued by the District to park in a handicapped parking space. If you go to Pentagon City mall, you can hang up your D.C. parking permit."

Just don't try to hang your Virginia permit in D.C.

Disabled tourists need to stop first at a DMV service center, where they can fill out a form and get a one-week disability permit. Or they can fax or mail in ahead of time. The one-week form doesn't require a doctor's approval.

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