Thanks York Accessibility Action for this important post about why disabled people may need their vehicle, and how taking away parking is disabling us.
Please note, you can download a longer version of this post. This post will offer a condensed version.
In recent years we have seen an increasing number of local authorities explicitly or covertly act against Blue Badge holders by removing parking and vehicle access near the centres of towns and cities across the UK. This is turn can remove access to the city centre for Blue Badge holders.
Some people will say that public transport means we can get to the city centre, but as we’ve discussed before, Martin Higgitt and Associates found that you have to be able to walk about 150m to get from any of York’s city centre bus stops to where you likely want to go. Another common suggestion is that we use Dial and Ride or Shopmobility. We’ve already written about these services and why they might be great solutions for some people, they aren’t an alternative to city centre parking.
The Reasons for Using a Motor Vehicle
So why do disabled people need to use a vehicle?
- Medical emergencies: Some disabled people need a personal vehicle nearby in case of medical or health emergency. Many disabled people have epilepsy which requires immediate medical intervention, sleep or trip to A&E.
- Personal Assistants (PA’s): PA’s or carers have shift patterns to adhere to and need a personal vehicle to get the client home before their shift ends. Some PA’s work short shifts i.e. 2 hours at a stretch. This makes it totally impractical to make bus journeys in allocated time. Additionally, the PA may be required by their next client within 15 mins travelling time. For clients with 24 hour care several PA’s are needed throughout the day and the client’s vehicle is needed to get to base for the relief carer’s shift to begin.
- Shopping: Not at all practical to do shopping as cannot carry bags and items and propel wheelchair yourself. Always need two hands free to move the wheelchair (It’s not safe to hang bags of shopping etc. on back of wheelchair as could catch on wheels, makes manoeuvring difficult due to balance of weight distribution). Any shopping hung on back of wheelchair is easily stolen or damaged. If a PA, partner or friend is pushing a person in a wheelchair they cannot carry the shopping as well. Normal practice is to keep going back to the personal vehicle with separate bulk items purchased.
- Needing to get away quickly: Personal vehicles provide a ‘safe haven’ in which to feel protected. Can retreat until anxiety calms down. Or can drive away home from the situation. Sudden pain and fatigue is common with many impairments resulting in the need to go straight home or to seek medical attention. Mental Health issues are amplified during the pandemic causing panic attacks and the need to get away immediately, especially for people with learning disabilities or autism
- Equipment and medication: Personal vehicles are able to store emergency medication, a change of clothing (weather or accidents), can carry special dietary food and tube feeds, emergency tools and pumps in case of flat tyres on mobility aids. Some seizures require immediate rectal suppository medication. Can be done discreetly in own vehicle. People carriers/WAVs etc. often have toileting/changing facilities i.e. urine bottle or space in back to change incontinence pads.
Why on earth would any disabled person, regardless of their impairment type, want to put themselves through any of these hassles when they already have access to a suitable vehicle, especially one that may have lots of expensive adaptations?
There are lots of barriers that can make it harder for a disabled person to go out and factors that you can’t predict but which will make your trip outside more difficult or dangerous. For example, finding that a lift is broken, a venue has already filled the wheelchair accessible area, being verballed abused or even physically abused. Disability hate crime has been rising and knowing that, as a disbaled person, can be frightening. As a personal vehicle is your sanctuary, you can escape whatever situation you are faced.
The weather also plays a role. If it’s raining and you’re using a mobility aid, it’s often impossible to hold an umbrella. As many shops aren’t physically accessible, you can’t just pop into the nearest shop or cafe to retreat from the weather. In winter, ice and snow on paths makes them dangerous or impossible to negotiate with mobility aids, meaning you need to park next to or near where you want to be.
It is also often safer to be in your own vehicle. An adapted vehicle can mean extra equipment that helps to secure a wheelchair whereas buses have no equivalent and can mean, if a bus stops suddenly, the wheelchair may move.