The Department for Transport recently announced that the Blue Badge Scheme will change. New criteria will mean people who have hidden disabilities that make it hard to travel safely will be eligible for a Blue Badge. This will help people with disabilities like autism and learning disabilities and people with mental health conditions.
When you have a hidden disability you are working against people’s ignorance. If people can’t see a disability then they don’t think it’s there, or they don’t believe the severity of your disability is what you say it is.
I have cerebral palsy and learning difficulties. I think that if I lined up 10 people, 9 out of 10 wouldn’t see my disability or wouldn’t believe it.
I’m often challenged for using accessible amenities, like seats on trains. It’s scary and makes me anxious. It can be really bad for my mental health, sometimes I won’t be able to go to work the next day after being challenged by a train guard or another passenger.
When you have a hidden disability you have to work harder to show you have something wrong with you. It shouldn’t be like that and it makes me feel like a fraud, but that’s my normal and I expect it to happen.
The government’s plan to change the Blue Badge Scheme is positive. People with hidden disabilities need accessible parking, I only apply for a Blue Badge because I need it. I need adaptations to drive my car and sometimes I can’t travel on my own.
Some organisations and campaigners have criticised the announcement because of the impact it might have on people who have physical disabilities. I don’t agree – their argument is that people will lose out on the space they need, but the government should provide more spaces to make sure everyone who needs one can have one.
There is a problem with how we represent disability on signs. People still think of someone in a wheelchair when they think about disability. It would help if we could change signs to represent disability with someone standing up as well. Some work is already being done to change signs on accessible toilets. The Blue Badge Scheme should do the same thing.
Schools focus on physical disability when they teach people. When I was at mainstream school they focused on physical disabilities and not learning disabilities. We need to make people more aware of different disabilities and the different impact and severity of disabilities.
When someone says to me that I don’t look disabled I always say to them ‘well you don’t look ignorant’. It’s important to remember not to judge a book by its cover and that some people have disabilities that aren’t always visible.
Certain people get it and certain people don’t. I’d urge people to think about how you ask someone. Mannerisms and language make a difference and you can tell when someone is genuinely asking, or when someone is trying to be funny. I’m more likely to stop and explain to someone who asks politely than someone who shouts ‘I’m going to report you because you have a Blue Badge’.
I welcome the decision to extend the scheme. It will help a lot of people who have hidden disabilities and need support. Sometimes when I can’t travel on my own my support worker is my mobility. The new scheme recognises that.