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Shropshire charities and businesses welcome plans to extend the Blue badge scheme so that it covers people with hidden disabilities.
The Department for Transport said the change would make it easier for those with conditions such as autism or dementia to get to work, socialise and access shops.
Hilary McGlynn who works for Shropshire hub of Autism West Midlands said: “This move is very welcome and one that many families and people on the autism spectrum have been campaigning about for some time.”
“Many people with autism haven’t qualified for a Blue Badge previously since the current rules are based on their physical ability to walk. However, children and adults with autism require support for other reasons related to their ability to keep safe.”
The NHS estimates that there are 4,822 people over-65 living with dementia in Shropshire.
Cathy Bower, Operations Manager for Alzheimer’s Society in Shropshire told JT Hughes: “Many people with dementia gradually lose their ability to walk and perform simple tasks as their condition progresses.
“This means activities that many of us take for granted, like visiting the shops or attending GP appointments, can become physically challenging and make some journeys daunting.”
“We support the call for people with dementia to be able to access the Blue Badge scheme, as this could mean that more people with dementia are able to continue doing the things they enjoy and maintain their independence for longer.”
First Change Since 1970
New proposals would see the blue badge scheme to be extended to those with hidden disabilities such as dementia and autism. It is one of the biggest changes to the blue badge scheme since it was introduced in 1970.
Currently, those with such disabilities have difficulty qualifying for a Blue Badge permit.
The existing rules focus on a person’s physical ability to walk. According to the Department for Transport, only a few councils currently recognise hidden disabilities, Shropshire Council not being one of them.
Those with autism may experience too much information around them or not be aware of the dangers of the road. This could put them at risk when crossing a busy car park, for example.
The new plans would mean that someone would qualify if they have difficulty when walking, if making a journey puts them at risk or if someone can’t make a journey without any help.
Hilary added: “A lack of awareness of danger is often a problem as is becoming overwhelmed in busy, noisy places. The ability to park in a familiar place, nearer to the end destination will make a real difference to many.”
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New Proposals Offer Those with Hidden Disabilities ‘More Control’
Lisa Forde, Director of Bridgnorth-based business, Dotty About Paper works with people on the autism spectrum. She welcomed the new plans saying it would provide people with hidden disabilities with freedom and increase their chances of employment
“Proposals for the blue badge for those with autism and hidden disabilities could really help their daily lives,” she said.
“Knowing that they have dedicated parking spaces will increase their confidence and lower anxiety when driving, and finding a parking space. And being able to park closer to work, shopping centres, supermarkets etc will help their mental health and accessibility, as well as give them the freedom they need.”
“Autism is a hidden disability, as well as dementia and mental health disorders. Providing people with hidden disabilities with a blue badge will help them feel noticed and accepted, and provide them with the help they need.
“Blue badges will also increase their chances of employment as they will be able to park closer to their place of work, attend interviews and placements without the added anxiety of getting there. It also limits the amount of time it will take to get to and from the car or a particular place, preventing accidents, or anxiety attacks etc.”
“Crossing a large car park may be easy enough for us, but for people with autism, it can be a major problem and stop them doing the things that they need to do. Having a blue badge is as important as having access to online food shopping, or online education and training. They remove the hassle and anxiety for people with hidden disabilities and put them back in control - back in the driving seat.”
More Parity Needed Between Physical and Non Physical Disabilities
Around 2.4 million people in England have Blue Badges. This allows them to use disabled bays, park for free in some pay and display bays and stay for up to three hours on yellow lines. According to the Department for Transport, without the scheme, 75 percent of badge holders have said that they would go out less often.
The government believes that there should be more parity between physical and non-physical disabilities. Jesse Norman, Transport Minister said the plans would remove the barriers to travel for people with conditions such as dementia and autism, so they gain greater access to work, shops and amenities.
He said: “Blue Badges give people with disabilities the freedom to get jobs, see friends or go to the shops with as much ease as possible.
“We want to try and extend this to people with invisible disabilities, so they can enjoy the freedom to get out and about, where and when they want.”
New Proposals a “Lifeline”
The National Autistic Society has been campaigning for this change for several years and said how it could be a lifeline to those with autism.
Responding to the proposals, Sarah Lambert, Head of Policy at the National Autistic Society, said: “The National Autistic Society welcomes this Government proposal. It could mean that many more autistic people will qualify for a Blue Badge, which can be a lifeline.”
“There are an estimated 700,000 autistic people in the UK and whilst every person on the autism spectrum is different, for some, not being able to park in a predictable place close to a destination can cause a great deal of anxiety and put their safety at risk. Some autistic people can experience too much information from the environment around them on public transport, while other autistic people might not be aware of dangers on the road.”
“However, current Blue Badge rules mean that all-too-often autistic people don’t qualify. The National Autistic Society has raised this issue with Government over recent years and we are pleased to see they have listened to the concerns of autistic people and their families. We hope the Government will make this important change and we look forward to working with them to make sure that autistic people and their families benefit.”
The changes are being put forward during an 8-week public consultation. This also includes the eligibility criteria for blue badge assessors, meaning that assessments can be carried out by a variety of healthcare professionals.
Blue Badge (disabled parking) scheme eligibility review and are open until 18th March 2018.