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Disabled people must not let themselves be divided over the blue badge scheme

BERNADETTE HORTON condemns the moral outrage directed at people with hidden disabilities

THE morally outraged shaking their sticks on social media and TV have been at it again. 

Radio phone-in shows have been deluged with the able bodied, the physically disabled, and even hard-line No Deal Brexiteers having their say and screaming in capital letters about their perceived latest injustice. 

On first sight and hearing, you would think they were shaking with rage at Theresa May’s woeful handling of Brexit, or her inept government, or even US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Britain. 

Alas readers, if only this were true. The reason for their anger and rage is the decision to restore the rights of people with autism and hidden disabilities, like Crohn’s Disease and mental health impediments, to be able to access blue badges for parking.

Up until the rise of the fervently right-wing Cameron government, many people with hidden disabilities, particularly autism, were able to access blue badges fairly easily. 

Then under Iain Duncan-Smith and Esther Mcvey’s stewardship of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), those rights were eroded and removed. 

The old cliche trundled out by the government, and parroted by the morally outraged, is that “autistic people have two feet and can walk” and therefore don’t need a blue badge for parking purposes.

I have read social media comment and listened to the radio phone-ins. They are populated mostly by able-bodied people who have suddenly become world experts in autism — those who think they should be able to park in disabled bays and those who believe they have the authority to police the blue badge scheme. 

There are those who want restrictions on the hours disabled people can park because, as one man put it, “they don’t need to go out at night and they don’t need to be there in the mornings when office and shop staff need parking bays.” 

Even some physically disabled people have also been ranting that people with hidden disabilities like autism should not have access to a blue badge as they don’t need wheelchairs and are capable of walking. 

I find the last group perhaps the saddest of all. The right-wing media and government have done a very good job when they can divide one group of disabled people against another over parking.

My son is autistic. I will tell you what he, and us as parents, endured as he was growing up. People with autism cannot plan journeys on their own and often will only go somewhere on a certain route they feel comfortable and happy with. 

People with severe autism who are also non-verbal need accompanying and caring for 24/7. 

With an autistic child you never know when that sensory meltdown will happen, but you can bet it will be in a very public place with the morally outraged looking on and judging you as a “bad parent.” 

Being near that shop or supermarket and being able to get back into a car quickly is a lifeline while you calm your child and reassure them, and let the meltdown pass. 

Public transport for many on the autistic spectrum is literally impossible. The sensory overload from other cars, crowds, noises, traffic and more is horrendous. 

And so for many being driven in their own car is the only way they can participate in life, go to school, go to swimming clubs, go on holiday. 

Some people seriously believe disabled people have no right to the same standard of life that able-bodied people lead and no right to enjoy their lives as others do.

My son is 19, has two feet, can run quite fast, can pass exams and is at university. Yet his university is in an extremely rural part of Wales with the nearest train station a 25-mile bus journey away. 

His anxiety is tangible and his route home each term is planned with military precision. The bus schedule has to be adhered to. If the bus is late, panic sets in. Same with the train. 

On that six-hour journey home, my son is covered in sweat with all the sensory overload going into overdrive. His fear is very real. 

Yet to many in the over-zealous brigade, he has an invisible disability that shouldn’t let him or his parents have access to a blue badge that would help him when travelling to town and being able to make a quick getaway when it all becomes too much.

The farcical thing about all this is the fact that this right is being restored. It is nothing new. 

It was nothing less than a scandal that people with autism and other hidden disabilities had their blue badges taken away from them in the first place. 

The Tories have been the architects of the demonisation of disabled people since 2010. Prior to Cameron’s government we didn’t see messages being left on car windscreens in disabled bays by anonymous cowards telling disabled people they were not really disabled. 

We didn’t see the morally outraged running to report their neighbours unjustifiably to the DWP as we do now, as people become the secret police of the right-wing Establishment. 

We didn’t see physically disabled people letting the world know they are more “deserving” than people with mental health problems.

At the end of the day we are talking about a person with a disability being able to park a car in a disabled bay. 

I would like to ask the morally outraged a few questions: where are you when an able-bodied person uses the disabled toilet to escape a queue and leaves a disabled person unable to access it? 

Where are you when able-bodied women in the female changing rooms at my local leisure centre used the disabled shower, simply because it has a seat for them to put their shampoo and shower gel on leaving a disabled person to wait to use the only shower suitable for their wheelchair? 

Instead of ranting on Facebook and Twitter and phoning into LBC with ludicrous allegations against disabled people, shouldn’t you be directing your ire at the Tory government and right-wing media that are trying to make it almost impossible for disabled people to participate in society? 

Shouldn’t you be walking past that disabled parking bay, proud in the knowledge that in a civilised humanitarian society, those that need a little bit of extra support are given it? 

Enough of the demonisation of disabled people. Far-right leaders like Trump are spewing forth with their persecution of minority groups, which then gets aired in mainstream media and adopted by “sheeple.” 

It’s not like we haven’t got history to look back on as a sober lesson into how disabled people were viewed not so many years ago as unproductive and costly to society. 

We must stop disability hatred in Britain now, before we descend into a very dark abyss. 

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