PEOPLE with hidden disabilities, including autism and mental health conditions will soon have access to Blue Badges, removing the barriers many face to travel.
The Blue Badge scheme enables those with physical disabilities to park closer to their destination than other drivers, as they are less able to take public transport or walk longer distances.
The scheme will now be extended to those with less visible conditions early next year.
Although people with non-physical disabilities are currently not excluded from receiving a Blue Badge, the rules are open to interpretation.
Transport Minister Jesse Norman said: “Blue badges are a lifeline for disabled people, giving them the freedom and confidence to get to work and visit friends independently.
“The changes we have announced will ensure that this scheme is extended equally to people with hidden disabilities so that they can enjoy the freedoms that many of us take for granted.”
The new criteria will extend eligibility to people who:
Cannot undertake a journey without there being a risk of serious harm to their health or safety or that of any other person (such as young children with autism)
Cannot undertake a journey without it causing them very considerable psychological distress
Have very considerable difficulty when walking (both the physical act and experience of walking)
The changes follow an eight-week consultation and are part of the Government’s drive for greater parity between physical and mental health conditions.
Although people with non-physical disabilities are not excluded from receiving a Blue Badge, the current rules are open to interpretation. The new criteria will give clear and consistent guidelines.
Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Sarah Newton said: “It’s absolutely right that disabled people are able to go about their daily life without worrying about how they will get from one place to another.
“We’re taking an important step forward in ensuring people with hidden disabilities get the support they need to live independently.”
Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “This will make a massive difference to the lives of many of the 600,000 autistic people in England, and their families.
“Just leaving the house is a challenge for many autistic people, involving detailed preparation – and sometimes overwhelming anxiety about plans going wrong. And some autistic people might not be aware of the dangers of the road or become overwhelmed by busy or loud environments.
“The possibility of not being able to find a parking space near where you’re going can mean you can’t contemplate leaving the house at all.”
“The National Autistic Society and our supporters have been highlighting problems with the current rules to the Government for many years.”
The government recently set out its plans to improve accessibility across all modes of transport in the Inclusive Transport Strategy that launched on 25 July 2018. The strategy aims to make the UK’s transport network fully inclusive by 2030.
CAMPAIGNERS say the Government had been forced into the changes because of its previous decision to tighten the rules in 2014.
Disability News Service reported: ‘The consultation had only been necessary because of a judicial review legal case taken on behalf of an autistic man with learning difficulties.
‘David (not his real name), who has since died, had had a blue badge for 30 years but was told by his local council that he no longer qualified because of new DfT rules.
‘His family took legal action against the Government and his local council because of new guidance issued by DfT in October 2014, after the Government had begun to replace disability living allowance (DLA) with the new personal independence payment (PIP) benefit the previous year.
‘DfT was forced to settle the judicial review claim in 2016 by agreeing to review the new Blue Badge guidance.
‘It was that review that led to this year’s consultation – which heard from more than 6,000 individuals and more than 230 organisations – and the announcement of changes to the scheme.’
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the way the changes had been presented had been “a complete lie”.
She said: “Until the changes were brought in with PIP, people in receipt of higher rate DLA mobility component always qualified for a blue badge.”
She said the changes were “forced through” by the legal action, which was taken by a DPAC supporter.
However, Sarah Lambert, head of policy at National Autistic Society, said the changes went further than correcting the problems introduced in 2014 and that NAS had been campaigning for blue badge eligibility to be widened for several years before 2014.
She said: “However, we recognise that we haven’t acknowledged the role of the legal case in bringing about change, and we will add this detail to the news story on our website.”