Parking in New York is nearly always at a premium, so it stands to reason that any open parking space is going to be eyed by those drivers in need of a space, but disabled parking spaces are reserved only for drivers with state issued disabled parking permits.
Local ordinances determine how many disabled spaces are required in their community. usually this is based on the number of disabled drivers permits which have been issued to local citizens. That means the empty disabled parking space you parked in was likely reserved for a specific person (although anyone with a state issued disabled parking permit would be allowed to park there) because they have need of it.
Disabled persons are given special parking dispensation because they are physically limited in their ability to get around. They may need a cane, a walker or a wheelchair; may have trouble walking long distances or suffer from some sort of infirmity which makes getting around more difficult. If you take their parking space, chances are you are endangering their life.
In New York drivers who park illegally in a disabled parking space risk a $50-$75 fine on their first offense. If they don’t learn their lesson from that and do it again, the fine rises to $75 to $150 for the second offense.
If you want to learn more about New York state law for disabled parking permits, visit the New York DMV web site.