People with hidden disabilities to benefit from Blue Badges

Blue Badge scheme to be extended to hidden disabilities, including autism and mental health conditions.

  • Blue Badge scheme to be extended to people with ‘hidden’ disabilities
  • Biggest overhaul to the system in 40 years, offering accessible parking for people who find travel difficult
  • part of the government’s drive to build a society that works for all

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 already means those with physical disabilities can park closer to their destination than other drivers, as they are less able to take public transport or walk longer distances.

In the biggest overhaul to the scheme since the 1970s, this will now be extended to those with less visible conditions early next year.

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 today 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 8-week consultation and are part of the government’s drive for greater parity between physical and mental health conditions.

Blue Badge

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 on Blue Badge eligibility for the whole of England.

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:

Today’s Blue Badge announcement 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. We’re thrilled that they have listened to the concerns of autistic people and their families, taking into account their needs for certainty and safety. Now it’s important to make sure that these changes are implemented fully and quickly.

The consultation, which ran from 21 January 2018 to 8 March 2018, received more than 6,000 responses from across the country.

The Department for Transport will now work with stakeholders to develop new guidance to help them administer their Blue Badge schemes when these changes come into force.

The government recently set out its plans to improve accessibility across all modes of transport in the Inclusive Transport Strategy which launched on 25 July 2018. The strategy aims to make the UK’s transport network fully inclusive by 2030.

Writing with mental health in mind

Mark Avery writing for the Education and Skills Funding Agency:

The internet can be an intimidating place for people with mental health issues. I should know. For as I can remember I’ve been going into battle daily with the beast known as depression.

The simplest tasks can become difficult when the ‘black dog’ has its grip on you because you can’t focus and, at best, you feel physically and mentally sluggish. My symptoms are very mild in comparison to some other people, but I’m not alone.

Today in the UK, approximately 1 in 4 people have a mental health condition and around 10% of people will experience depression in their lifetime. This thought stays with me during my day-to-day work as the apprenticeship service’s lead content designer. I feel that having this kind of condition can help me to empathise with others in a similar position.

Notes

If you have mental health issues and cannot easily access the information you need, it is likely you will have increased feelings of anxiety. One of the things I wanted to do when I took on my role was to use my experiences to ensure our services are accessible for people with mental health conditions.

Making services accessible to all

I believe this is where great content can help. It has the power to create order out of unholy confusion. And, meeting user needs is the simplest way to make the potentially stressful experience of managing apprenticeships into an easy one.

We have done this by making sure:

  • people can understand our content – we have always used the simplest language possible
  • people can find information quickly – the content gets to the point straight away
  • users can do what they need to do easily – user journeys are intuitive and involve the minimum number of steps necessary
  • we make sure our pages don’t contain any unnecessary distractions and that all the information on there meets identifiable user needs
  • we use personalised adaptive content once users have logged in to their accounts so they only see information relevant to them
  • we don’t make assumptions about our users – we always explain terms and concepts that users might not be familiar with
  • our content works visually, including links and buttons – the content is easy to see and read, and is scalable on different devices
  • we have done rigorous research and testing of the accessibility of our content to ensure it meets accessibility standards

Trying to understand the problems people face

However, I’ve found there are still significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how mental health impacts the online user experience. And, this needs to change, especially considering the huge number of people who suffer from mental health conditions.

Let’s consider the kind of issues people with cognitive impairment might face:

  • short term memory loss
  • lack of concentration and attention
  • difficulties processing lots of information
  • poor hand-eye coordination
  • slow thinking
  • trouble making decisions
  • lack of motivation
  • impatience
  • constant need for validation

And, these problems often increase when sufferers are stressed.

Getting involved

Beyond the common sense basics of good content, what else we can do to improve our services for people with cognitive impairment issues? Honestly, I don’t know.

So, consider this an appeal to anyone out there who suffers from a mental health condition to get involved with user testing. Tell us your frustrations, what we’re doing right, and what we need to do to make things better.

You can get in touch with me, in confidence, at mark.avery@sfa.bis.gov.uk. I’d love to hear from you!