Psychological Distress to be included in the Blue Badge Scheme
In England, new guidelines for the Blue Badge Scheme (the disabled parking scheme) will explicitly include people who suffer from psychological distress when travelling. This is intended to benefit people who previously would struggle to obtain this badge, or who were unaware that they could have the badge. However, there are additional steps to be taken, to make this a successful new implementation.
Previously, the Blue Badge Scheme was created for those with physical disabilities, but the Department for Transport in England have now recognised that changes are necessary to include those with severe psychological problems who are distressed when travelling. While the guidelines in Scotland already include a broader definition of disability, to include individuals with dementia, autism, and learning disabilities, these are still based on physical safety concerns. That is, these people are eligible for a Blue Badge due to their potential difficulties navigating safely in traffic, and as such, in Scotland, eligibility due to psychological distress alone is not recognised. The new guidelines in England will make it easier for those with psychological distress to obtain the disabled parking badge. There has been mixed responses to this news, with some arguing that this is a positive move for psychological health and wellbeing, and others arguing that this is an unhelpful solution that in fact creates more problems than it solves. We consider some of those arguments below.
Including psychological distress as a disability in the Blue Badge Scheme could be beneficial in the everyday life of those suffering from mental health issues such as severe anxiety. These individuals face normal day-to-day activities, such as grocery shopping, going to appointments, and taking part in leisure activities, with great anxiety and fear. Some may be so disabled by their anxiety that they avoid these everyday activities altogether. Someone with agoraphobia, who may feel highly distressed when doing the grocery shopping, could benefit from knowing their car is parked just outside the supermarket. Knowing they can quickly get to their car may somewhat ease their anxiety, and work as a preventative measure against a panic attack. Similarly, someone with social anxiety may feel more relaxed attending a social event, if they know they can easily decide to go home in their car, if they were to feel too uncomfortable. This sense of possible escape could ease anxiety, and thus, allow people to carry out activities, they otherwise would not do, or would do with extreme anxiety. It is also being suggested that this is a positive step in the right direction due to the recognition of psychological distress as equally valid to physical illness or disability. Accommodating people with both these problems is important for their wellbeing, quality of life, and equal opportunities.
However, there has already been some backlash about this proposed scheme. Some people are pointing out that there are already a shortage of disabled car parking spaces, and issuing Blue Badges to those with mental health issues could create huge issues for people with physical disabilities who are struggling with accessibility as it is. Moreover there is a concern that providing people with mental health issues a Blue Badge is not a solution to their problems, and in fact in the long term may be maintaining these issues. For example if we consider the idea that those who have social anxiety may be able to access an event if their car is nearby. Although this is a positive thing for this person, this is what we would call a “safety behaviour”- putting in place security measures to support someone to achieve something they previously could not. Over time, in therapy, we would aim to reduce safety behaviours and build up independence, confidence and autonomy. When safety behaviours continue for a long time unchallenged, it can actually reinforce the issue, for example this person develops a belief of “I can only go if my car is parked close by” which creates further issues down the line. It has been queried that this Blue Badge scheme may in fact be providing a temporary fix for individuals who need more significant psychological support, with some going so far as to argue that the money spent on this scheme should instead be invested instead into mental health services.
Another issue with this scheme is potential harassment. Psychological distress is an invisible disability, and people could risk being falsely accused of “not being disabled” when using their Blue Badge to park in disabled parking spaces. The Department of Transport have recognised this potential problem, and they are suggesting public education on invisible disabilities. This is a valuable idea, (and one that arguably is necessary regardless of this new scheme) but other measures may also be needed. Not only will it likely take some time for public education and awareness to spread, but it may not prevent all cases of false accusation. Some have suggested creating a separate scheme for psychological disability. However, this too could present its own problems of discrimination or false accusations. While some people with severe psychological distress could benefit from a Blue Badge, it will be difficult to completely eliminate the fear of harassment. This is a huge problem given that many of these people already suffer from anxiety.
Psychological assessment for eligibility has been highlighted as another potential problem regarding the implementation of the new Blue Badge guidelines. In fact, there are two problems; one is the distress of attending an assessment, and the second is whether psychological distress can be reliably measured. It has, for example, been pointed out that distress may vary from day to day and may happen to be “insufficient” on the day of assessment. However, the potential bigger issue is that of attending and going through yet another process of assessment. People who will be eligible will most likely feel distressed when going for an assessment due to situational factors related to their diagnosis. This could be due to being in a public place, involving social interaction, or feeling under pressure. Contrary to the problem of potential false accusations based on invisible disability, this problem has an identified solution – people could be accepted onto the scheme via their current health professional contact. Their GP or psychologist, who is aware of their psychological diagnosis, could approve their Blue Badge membership, however this again leads to numerous issues of consistency across professionals, education of staff, time for extra processes and paperwork to name a few.
Overall it is generally well accepted as a good thing that this is being discussed and considered. In order to support individuals with mental health issues, we need to be talking about these problems and how we, as a society, can support them. Similar to physical disabilities, mental health issues can be disabling and cause huge problems with accessibility for such individuals. Although it seems this is a step in the right direction, it is clear there are a lot of issues to be overcome for the successful implementation of this new scheme. We look forward to following this in the coming months, and finding out how it goes. What do you think about this new scheme? Is it a positive thing? Or does it create more problems than it solves. We would love to hear from you.