Checking the expiry date of my Blue Badge, my heart sank. I’d driven 20 minutes into my nearest town centre to run essential errands, but instead of being able to park near the opticians in a disabled bay, as usual, I realised my badge had expired.
I sat in the car for 15 minutes, evaluating whether attempting the further distance from the paid car park on foot was worth it. I’d end up either limping in pain, or unable to make it at all. In the end, I turned the ignition back on and drove home.
With a painful hip condition that has failed to resolve despite two surgeries, and pain across my back, pelvis and leg due to incurable endometriosis, my mobility is limited and my pain high.
Somewhere between a hectic relocation from Hertfordshire to Leicestershire with my husband and our young daughter and one of the lockdowns, my Blue Badge had expired. My ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ status to Covid-19 meant I’d hardly left the house until I’d had both my vaccinations and simply hadn’t realised the expiry date had been and gone.
I was allowed to use it on public roads for a further six months – a special extension awarded because of coronavirus causing renewal delays – but stopping in private car parks like those of a supermarket would be liable to fines. And because I’d moved counties, I couldn’t renew mine easily – I had to apply afresh to my local authority.
When I saw how complex and convoluted the process was, I put it off.
The Blue Badge had proven to be a lifeline, fostering in an era of independence and accessibility. But after months of intense anxiety caused by lockdown isolation, physical pain, a diminished support network, little to no access to healthcare, and trauma from the DWP’s PIP process, I just didn’t have it in me.
Not having a Blue Badge made me realise how vital it had become for me. Without it, I simply stopped going out. I feared every journey or errand, worried about picking up my daughter from nursery in case the closest spot was taken and generally felt my confidence and self-worth whither away.
The proverbial hoops disabled people like me must metaphorically jump through for access to healthcare and things like the Blue Badge are prohibitive. If your mental fortitude is depleted, your anxiety or pain high, it can feel impossible to fill in endless forms and exhaustively make your case and gather proof or evidence of why you need a Blue Badge.
My husband encouraged me to fill it out and offered to help me with it but I couldn’t face it. The first time I’d done it, I’d cried as I quantified on paper how disabled I had become. The DWP PIP process in 2020 was even worse, making me feel dehumanised.
As a result, I spent a year without my Blue Badge because I didn’t have the emotional strength to withstand all the form filling.
So, I just stayed home. Of course, we all had lockdowns and endured the disruption to public life, but in the months things did open up again, I stayed in.
This year, tired of inaccessibility in the big towns near the tiny village I live in, I looked again at my local council site and found the process to apply for a blue badge had been streamlined. In fact, because of my PIP mobility score, I was automatically pre-approved for my Blue Badge.
It was a beautiful moment of relief. I had my new Blue Badge within two weeks.
The freedom I’ve regained since then has been quite joyful. That freedom, independence and accessibility is an important part of my well-being.
So when I read about the disabled people of York having their Blue Badge parking access in the city permanently taken away, I thought it was a disgrace.
Councillors from the City of York Council voted unanimously in November to permanently remove the footstreets exemption offered to Blue Badge holders, which allows them to park in pedestrianised areas.
It had already been temporarily restricted during the pandemic to make way for Alfresco dining and social distancing, but now, the permanent change is to make way for anti-terrorist measures in the city centre.
It has been deemed preferable (no doubt by a non-disabled majority) that rather than find another way to make the city safer for the public, the council will instead further restrict the lives of disabled locals and visitors.
Blue Badge holders like me have already been effectively zoned out of swathes of London – the City is largely inaccessible with only a handful of token designated Blue Badge spaces – but the prospect of York’s total ban is abhorrent and far more insidious.
I fear York’s plans – widely criticised by advocacy groups and human rights experts – spreading like another pandemic around the UK.
It’s easy to cut concessions of the minority, isn’t it? Especially if so many disabled people like me are already so worn out and exhausted from the increased difficulties of our lives that we won’t have the strength to fight it. And councils have a track record of seizing on the actions of their peers – just look at the frequency of bin collections being slashed.
If York’s discriminatory Blue Badge precedent spread to my local towns, I genuinely worry this level of inaccessibility would effectively make me a prisoner in my own home.
I can only hope that pressure from campaigners, the mounting legal challenge in the works and loud advocacy in the press will stop the plan in its tracks, so that the daily lives of disabled people like me won’t have to stop instead.
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