Blue Badges, or disabled parking permits, have existed for almost 50 years, and are recognised around the world, nearly as much as the wheelchair symbol. They were designed to allow wheelchair users and people with other mobility impairments to use often specific parking spaces in car parks, usually closer to the buildings the car park associated with. It remains a logically and reasonable adaptation to the built environment for this purpose.
This year the UK Government has decided to extend the Blue Badge scheme to people with so-called hidden impairments like autism, dementia and ‘anxiety’. I say so-called because, in reality, these impairments do show visible signs in terms of behaviour. The government’s decision is likely due to pressure from charities and others to provide people with mental health issues access to services and benefits designed for people with physical impairments as a symbol of equality without any understanding of the consequences, as opposed to developing services uniquely suitable for people with mental health issues.
As someone who has both physical impairments and mental health issues, I would like to use this article to explain why a ‘blue badges for all’ approach is a bad idea for everyone involved.
The first problem it creates is obviously one of demand and supply. I am not sure how accurate this statistic is nowadays, but it used to be said that only 8% of disabled people are wheelchair users. If you are doubling or tripling the number of people with blue badges, then the demand for accessible parking spaces increases. If the supply of spaces is not increased, then potentially wheelchair users are being excluded from spaces that were designed for them with extra space between the cars.
If the supply is increased to 20% or more of a large supermarket car park could be made up of disabled spaces. This means that many of the spaces will be far away from the supermarket’s entrance, which defeats the purpose of the spaces, making a lose-lose situation. It will also become divisive as people fight for the golden spaces at the front of the building.
The second and foremost issue is I believe the reality of parking spaces will not meet the fantastical expectations of people with autism, dementia, anxiety and so on. Blue badges are being sold as a way that individuals and their families can reduce the ‘stress’ of being in a car park as they will be nearer the desired building and so be spending less time in the car park.
I really do not understand this logic because if someone with autism is having a meltdown and has a fear of car parks, a blue badge will not stop this. There is no evidence that car parks affect dementia or blue badges will make it easier.
Then we have stress and anxiety. I absolutely know these are real conditions as I have experienced them myself, and they can be severe enough to be very debilitating. However, these are also terms that are widely and currently abused to describe a bad day and so on. They are terms used to get a sick note without fuss, replacing a bad back, because it is impossible to measure or disprove. This misunderstanding and abuse of the terms, therefore, makes blue badge a prize for those who have moulded themselves as victims of anxiety and stress, mainly as it often results in free parking.
I believe that everyone should be supported in the best way for them. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety to some degree, and it is about having tools to confront these feelings, to reach their maximum potential of coping, as opposed to demanding society somehow removes the stress. However, avoidance is not the solution, as blue badges are now intended to do, and therapies like CBT and exposure, as well as learning other tools, seems more appropriate as people learn to cope rather than being cured or demanding the right to avoid.
Many people with anxiety are resistant to using therapies to take responsibility and own their conditions as they see it as normalisation and an attempt to remove benefits from them by trying to cure them due to the victim culture that exists. They complain wheelchair users do not have to have therapies without understanding many wheelchair users will have had months or maybe years of physiotherapy and other treatments to reach and maintain their maximum potential.
I believe that like how the carer’s movement has gained its power, giving blue badges to everyone is a political decision to keep people happy with an illusion of improvement as opposed to designing and investing in services people really need. It also shows how impairment fashion dictates policy and how impairments who are not in fashion suffer.
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