People with "hidden disabilities" say the process of applying for a blue badge is difficult, challenging and often a postcode lottery. Families across Wales say they have been declined a disabled parking permit from their local authority which causes huge stress.
Parents David and Melonie Joseph from Neath say they can't get a blue badge for their 11-year-old daughter Polly who has autism along with sensory and mobility issues. They say a parking permit would make a world of difference to Polly's quality of life.
Polly's dad David says they're limited to what they can do as a family. "She's just turned 11 now and obviously when she was younger we'd be able to pick her up and carry her into the supermarket but obviously as she gets older she's getting a bit heavier so there's major major difficulties so one of the problems we find all of the time is getting in and out of car parks."
What are the rules when it comes to applying for a blue badge?
In Wales, there are more than 200,000 badges and a person can qualify in one of three categories.
- Automatic - for the blind, those on a higher rate of Disability allowance or veterans severely injured.
- Discretionary - for those unable to walk, with a terminal illness or with a severe mental impairment.
- Temporary - for people recovering from serious treatment or illness.
Hidden disabilities like autism are eligible for permits under the discretionary category.
Natalie Ann Beattie from Barry, who's 13-year-old son Ethan has autism, says a badge would greatly help their challenging circumstances.
"Ethan's behaviour, his autism can be very challenging. It can be very unpredictable at times. He can become very aggressive towards us, kicking, biting, punching sometimes. He's completely out of his comfort zone so we need the car nearby so if we do need to move him from a situation that's causing him anxiety then that would be great to be parking somewhere nearby."
Natalie wants the blue badge to be more inclusive of hidden disabilities.
"Just because somebody doesn't look disabled, well there are mental illnesses and conditions that people don't see every day. Even the badge itself has a picture of a wheelchair which isn't inclusive of all disabilities."
Disability Wales says there needs to be greater awareness from local authorities regarding eligibility criteria.
"A blue badge is not a luxury item. It's an essential aid to independent living, and for many who are unable to get out and about without support. We are happy that the scheme was extended back in 2014 to include those with a cognitive impairment including autism but unfortunately there seems to be a lack of awareness on who's eligible for a blue badge across different local authority areas."
Both of the family's local councils say they follow the Welsh Government's criteria when awarding the badges.
Meanwhile the Vale of Glamorgan Council said they have an autism team able to offer advice and information.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “In partnership with health professionals we have developed ‘best practice guidance’ which provides sound advice to local authorities as they process applications for a badge. This is constantly under review and we believe it ensures the most consistent approach to assessment and outcome throughout Wales.”
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