Monday, April 05, 2010

Disabled Parking Badge? Naff Off

So you thought that a person with a disability would be entitled to a disabled parking badge (Blue Badge)? Wrong! They have to have the right kind of disability, apparently.

Said badge gives you a range of parking concessions, including exemption from parking and congestion charges, and the use of marked bays. People with severe mobility impairments will get the badge, but people with other disabilities which might make it hard or impossible for them to use public transport will not necessarily get it.

We applied for a Blue Badge for Joe. His Asperger syndrome makes it difficult for him to travel on public transport, especially because he has an aversion to loud noises, and because he gets very distressed when unexpected things happen, such as service disruptions (which, after all, happen quite often). His behaviour when distressed can be alarming, possibly even dangerous to himself and others.

Joe would really enjoy a trip to London Zoo, for example, but it is an arduous journey by public transport, and there is no parking nearby apart from a car park exclusively for Blue Badge holders.

But Hackney Council refused our application. Apparently, because Joe does not have a severe mobility impairment, he can not have the badge. 'Behavioural difficulties', the letter explained, do not qualify him. Why?! Are they irrelevant to a person's travel needs?! Er, no.

It seems to me that the Blue Badge scheme is far too narrow in its scope, and does not recognise the range of disabilities and their effect on people's lives and experience. The purpose of a Blue Badge, says the Department for Transport is to enable someone to park as near as possible to where they are going, as a Blue Badge gives them access to disabled parking bays next to the entrance of, for example, the supermarket or railway station you were using. Hence, it is given to people who would struggle to physically get from the further end of the car park to the supermarket door. Fair enough: it is definitely needed in these circumstances.

But what about people like Joe? People who do not have a physcial impairment, but who nonetheless have great difficulties using public transport.

Since the Blue Badge was introduced, parking charges have risen and congestion charges been introduced, which means that for people whose disabilities make it hard for them to use public transport, travelling by car to certain venues has become prohibitively expensive. Without the Badge, Joe's life experiences are unnecessarily limited; with it, they will be enhanced. That alone should be reason enough for people with conditions such as his to have the badge.

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