For me, obtaining a Blue Badge was a massive palaver, and from speaking to other people with upper limb disabilities and congenital heart disease, they experienced the same issues, so this is a topic I feel needs to be discussed.
A Blue Badge enables disabled drivers and passengers to park nearer to their intended location, for example, much closer to shops and public amenities. This primarily ensures that the disabled person in question will not have to undertake as much walking as they would normally. The disabled parking bays are also much roomier, therefore allowing extra space for manoeuvring in and out of a wheelchair or using other mobility aids that may be required. Blue Badges are also sometimes granted to people with impairments that affect their ability to use the pay and display car park machines, but this is only if the person with the disability has their own car – this is not a specification with any other health problems.
A couple of years ago, I decided to reapply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as this was due to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA). I was advised to visit my local Citizens Advice Bureau, as they are absolute experts at filling in these forms, and they’re just really kind and supportive. Whilst in receipt of DLA, I only received the lowest level for the Care component – this really shocked the staff at the CAB, as they were able to see just how much my disability has an impact on my life, so they were even more inclined to help me. Whilst going through the application form the issue of driving cropped up, obviously I told them I wasn’t eligible for Motability so couldn’t afford the adapted car that I required – but they didn’t understand why I wasn’t able to get a Blue Badge for use when I’m out with my friends or parents. Obviously, I explained that the last time I applied I had been unsuccessful because upper limb disabilities do not count unless you have your own vehicle, but they desperately urged me to try again. Seriously, who decided that lower limb impairments are more severe than upper limb? They’re both debilitating in different ways!
So, I did as advised and used the Blue Badge application form to explain about my disability and how it affects my arms, back and heart, I was then invited to an assessment day. I wandered into the assessment centre, and I was the only person in the waiting room without crutches, a walking stick or a wheelchair, so I already felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there – even though I was in my usual, excruciating pain, and wearing wrist splints. I just kept reminding myself that the friendly Citizens Advice Bureau people told me to apply, because I should be eligible. My name was called, and I looked up to see the assessor just looking at me with a super-confused expression on her face. She informed me that we’d be going for a walk around the outside of the building, so that she could assess my walking speed, I nodded, and then asked whether she’d had a chance to read my application form – because simply walking alone isn’t my own problem. The lady said she’d read it, but from her tone of voice I could tell she wasn’t at all interested in how my disability actually affected me – she literally just wanted to test my walking speed. As we went on this walk I desperately tried to tell her about my hands, my lack of thumbs, the fact that I only have full use in one arm, my twisted spine, having congenital heart disease, living in constant pain and being totally reliant on strong painkillers. I also attempted to tell her about how my hips and knees are affected due to my back pain, and how walking is just bloody painful – but I’ve lived in pain for most of my life – I don’t know what it’s like to be pain free, basically. To put it bluntly, she had no time for this – she was literally only concerned with walking. She wasn’t interested in my inability to carry bags, or the fact that my constant pain causes me to be dizzy a lot of the time. I could have easily staggered in with a fake limp, and automatically been granted a Blue Badge, and this seems plain wrong.
Anyway, it’s so surprise that my application got turned down. They seem to assume that, unless you have your own vehicle, someone with an upper limb disability does not need a Blue Badge. How do they know that the person driving the vehicle you’re in is keen to help by carrying your bags? Also, how can having someone with you limit your pain caused by generally walking and moving around? Unless that person is a pharmacist with access to some mega strong painkillers, it’s just not going to happen, and it isn’t realistic.
So yeah, after this rejection I just gave up really – it’s not worth the emotional upheaval of explaining my medical history to everyone for them to judge me within a five minute brief chat. It’s kind of draining. I know of so many people who gain them so easily, but why do people with upper limb disabilities have to be so open to disclosing medical information in order to get the support they deserve?
This was until I finally got my own little car (wooooo! Remember my last blog?) and my friends with the same disability encouraged me to apply for a Blue Badge. I mean, I drive an automatic adapted car and have a disabled railcard, why shouldn’t I be eligible for a Blue Badge? I painstakingly filled in my third application form, writing near enough the same as before, with super detail about how Holt-Oram Syndrome affects me, and hoped for the best. A few weeks later, I finally received some good news – I’d been granted a Blue Badge (without needing to attend an assessment day) and I’d receive it within a few weeks! Finally – a positive result! It’s just a shame that I had to go through so many negative experiences before getting this reward.
I also only use the Blue Badge when I desperately need it, like when parking at the train station and the car park gets filled up really quickly, so if I didn’t park in the disabled bays I’d have to park at another car park and walk over. I always dread that someone will make a comment about how it isn’t my badge, or accuse me of not having a disability, but luckily it hasn’t happened yet! Although, if someone happened to have a look through my car window, you can see my steering ball on the wheel, my seat stupidly close to the wheel (so that I can read with both hands) as well as my wrist splint shoved on to the automatic gear stick!
Having a Blue Badge helps me psychologically just as much as physically – simply because it shows that someone has acknowledged my disability, and has taken the time to understand how debilitating it is, and this empathy means more to me than anything – I never take it for granted.