The Disability Invisibility (Part 2)
*I had aimed for this to follow up Part 1 within a month, however moving house, writing off my car and being without a computer for nearly 4 weeks has led to some unforeseen delays for which I can only apologise!
But without further ado, it’s time for Part 2!
From Bathrooms To Bays
In my previous blog entry I wrote all about disabled bathrooms, the new signs that were beginning to appear outside them, and the positive and negative effects these could have on disabled users. Some of the feedback I received on the entry was from people who had found that these new signs, although designed to highlight the varying nature of disabilities, were instead confusing people and leading them to believe that the bathroom was for use by anyone, disabled or otherwise. This isn’t something I had considered at the time of writing, but it’s a legitimate point and certainly one worth adding to the argument and mentioning here. It goes to show just how tricky it can be to put across a point (in this case that ‘not every disability is visible’) without diluting that point and leading to even more confusion.
In this second part of The Disability Invisibility, I’m switching my attention from bathrooms to parking bays as I take a look at who should and shouldn’t be using the disabled bays, the issues and frustrations that come with needing to park in one of these bays, and what, if anything, needs to change…
I was driving for a little over 5 years before I had the accident in which I broke my neck. And in those 5 years I can honestly say that I never once parked in a disabled bay. I mean, why would I?! I didn’t need the extra space to fully open my door when getting out, if I was in a rush to get somewhere then I could simply walk faster, and it’s not as though every other parking bay was located in a field, a 2 mile hike from my destination!
Since my injury however, disabled parking bays have naturally become a lot more relevant in my life. Now, as a full time wheelchair user, if I go out in the car and am unable to a find a suitable space to park in, then I’m really only left with 3 options: a) Pull over, get the binoculars out and stakeout the disabled bays until one becomes free, much to the annoyance of every other driver who now has to manoeuvre around me, b) Begin a monotonous 2mph circuit of the car park, instantly revving into fast and furious mode the minute someone approaches a car parked in one of the disabled bays, or c) Let out a few colourful words, turn around and go home. Because if I can’t park somewhere that allows me enough room to get my wheelchair out, then I physically can’t get out of the car, it’s as simple as that.
During my younger, more hot-headed years, I had a number of verbal altercations over parking bays, and was met with a variety of different reactions and excuses; from apologetic and defusing, to sarcastic and antagonising. But one always sticks in my mind: As a woman exited a sports centre/gym with her two children either side of her and made her way to her car, I rolled down my window and asked, “Excuse me, but do you know you’re parked in a disabled bay?”, to which she replied, “‘Ere, I’ve got two kids mate!” My initial thought was, “Well if you consider your children a disability upon yourself, then maybe you should’ve thought more before having them!” However this thought, probably wisely, stayed in my head and I instead chose to scold her with a rather tame, “Well that’s no excuse for being a lazy #?!*$ so-and-so!”
Yes, I think it’s safe to say that since my injury, nothing has caused exasperation and expletives quite like the disabled parking bay fiasco!
To Park Or Not To Park…
As a general rule of thumb, if you are ever driving around, see an empty disabled bay and wonder, “Should I park in that bay?”, this can be answered by following this very handy guide: Simply ask yourself the question, “Do I have a disability or impairment which severely affects my mobility?” If the answer to the question is “yes”, then the space is all yours. If however, the answer is “no”/”I’m not sure”/”well I did stub my toe getting out of the bath this morning…”, then those parking bays are not applicable to you I’m afraid and you’ll have to slum it with the common man in one of the many, many, *deep breath* many regular bays on offer. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve gone to the gym of all places and found that all the disabled bays have been take up by regular gym goers who must simply see the yellow spaces in front of them as they pull into the car park and lock onto them like homing missiles. The irony is that they’re not even the closest parking spaces!
The clue is in the name: Disabled Bay. Not, I’ll Just Be 2 Minutes Bay. Not, I’m Picking Up My Kids Bay. Not, There Was Nowhere Else To Park Bay. And most certainly not, Luxury Bay For Lazy Baes (I’ll get my coat)!
Now I know what you’re thinking, that an even simpler question to ask would be, “Do I have a blue disabled parking badge?” And you’re right, that would be a more straight forward way of testing, but one however, which comes with a more complicated answer. For example, I’m fairly sure that I’m not the only one who has seen someone pull into a disabled bay and pop a blue badge onto the dash, before hopping out and casually strolling off. And I’m definitely not the only person who, after seeing this, has thought to themselves, “Well someone’s taking advantage of grandma’s parking privileges!” No, unfortunately policing blue badges and disabled bays is an absolute minefield and challenging a person who is parked in a disabled bay can put you in a rather sticky situation, as more and more people seem to have blue badges now and being able to tell apart those who have genuine mobility issues from those who don’t is becoming increasingly tricky…
The Invisible Disability Strikes Again!
To quote my previous entry, “there are a countless number of disabilities that exist beneath the surface, affecting millions of people and giving them just as much right to use the disabled facilities as someone in a wheelchair”. This statement was true for disabled bathrooms and it’s equally as true for disabled parking bays. In fact, when you think about it, the mantra of, not every disability is visible, is even more applicable here as I would imagine there are even more people who have the right to claim a disabled parking bay than use a disabled bathroom. Having a weak heart, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue syndrome, those who experience pain, those who have psychological/behavioural problems, the elderly; most of these people wouldn’t necessarily need to use a disabled bathroom, but all are eligible to at least apply for a disabled parking badge, and rightly so. If you have an issue that affects your mobility or limits how far you can travel on foot, where parking that little bit closer or having a little extra room to get out would make life that much easier, then you have every right to do that. Once again, the issue comes down to being one of honesty but also one of obtainability.
It’s definitely much easier to police who uses a disabled parking bay than who uses a disabled bathroom, as you at least need to display a badge in your windscreen when parked in a disabled bay, or risk getting the dreaded parking fine! However, if your vehicle has a disabled badge belonging to a friend or relative then essentially all you’d need to do is pop it on the dashboard, instantly giving you carte blanche to park in any space you wanted, without fear of repercussions. And if anyone were to query it then you could just hide behind the near impenetrable invisible disability shield! Short of making a citizens arrest and demanding to see the photo ID on the back of the badge, there’s not an awful lot else a person could do after that, no matter how able-bodied a person may appear. Yes, a disabled badge is a wonderful weapon to have at your disposal, especially if (as is often the case) badge holders park for free!
A Two-Tiered Overhaul
So what, if anything, should change? Personally I believe that, as far as disabled parking bays are concerned, the biggest issue is that of obtainability; there are simply not enough of them to cater for the near 3 million blue badge holders in the UK. This is especially problematic if you are a wheelchair user who absolutely needs a larger space in order to get your wheelchair out. Sure, it would help if there were more disabled bays available, and in a perfect world there would be enough spaces to cater for everyone; but this is not a perfect world and the Mega Car Park: Space For Everyone solution is neither practical nor realistic.
No, instead I would suggest an overhaul of the blue badge system; splitting it into two tiers: One for those who require larger spaces for wheelchairs or walking frames, and one for those who can walk largely unaided but require proximity parking. From what I have seen, it seems to be a relatively small percentage of blue badge holders that require wheelchairs or walking frames to mobilise. I would therefore leave the majority of disabled spaces as they are, but set aside a handful of spaces in each car park specifically for those who have the ‘top tier’ blue badges, meaning they require larger spaces for wheelchairs etc, and making them distinct from the ‘regular’ disabled bays. They wouldn’t even necessarily have to be right at the front, just as long as they were big enough for a person to open their door fully and assemble their chair.
I don’t mean to come across all Animal Farm and imply that all disabled people are equal but some are more equal than others; this is purely my personal idea and opinion, and I’m sure there will be numerous flaws in what I’ve just suggested. Maybe I’m being selfish and looking at it purely from a wheelchair user’s perspective, I’m just trying to come up with what I think would be the most practical solution. And I do believe there needs to be a change.
But what do you guys think? Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree and whether you have a solution you think would work better.
As always, thanks for reading!