Seeing Red over Blue Badges

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Birthdays are tough as the parent of a child born prematurely. As you move forward through the years, you are thankful that you and your child are still here, even at the same time that you are thrust back to the day of their untimely arrival and to the hopes, fears, smells and noises of the alien environment of the NICU. To say you feel mixed emotions does not to justice to the complex web of feelings you have to deal with.

When your child is, like Boo,  one who will never outgrow their prematurity, when their early arrival led to complications that will affect them for their whole lives, these feelings are mixed with others too: maybe grief, maybe anger or sadness.

But if you are reading this as the parent of a premature baby or a child born with disabilities, let me tell you what many have told me in the past: birthdays get easier. I didn’t believe these people when they told me. But they were right. They do. Don’t despair. Things get better. I promise.

Boo’s second birthday, though, was hard. It was so difficult to remember all he and we had been through. It was hard to see how different he was from his peers; how hard his future looked set to be. But we celebrated anyway partly because we wanted to and because you have to right? And truth be told, we had a lovely day, a pretty typical (note: I can’t use the word ‘normal’ now ever) toddler birthday even though ours couldn’t toddle and likely never will without aids that are the size of a studio flat.

Until, that is, the cake was eaten, the wrapping paper was in the recycling bin and the presents temporarily stored and I sat down with a glass of wine and my lap top. Not to work, as I usually do. To apply for our son’s blue badge so we could park in disabled spaces.

I had been told some weeks before and not very politely by our local blue badge office that we were unlikely to get one because Boo was too young, even though the government website indicates that children from the age of 2 with significant health needs and disabilities are eligible to apply to this scheme. (Apparently if Boo was a ‘normal two year old, he would likely need to be carried in and out of the car anyway’. Hmmm come try and carry Boo, I thought. I’ll show you what carrying is. And stop using the ‘n’ word, OK?) I applied regardless.

Boo had just received a wheelchair buggy and it was enormous. We needed space to get it round the car and put him in it safely. Boo may have born prematurely, but tell his body that. He has always been tall. Very tall. And while his weight is perfectly respectable rather than overly impressive, he can’t hold any of it himself. He could not and still cannot sit independently. Pick him up and he is as unwieldy as a sack of potatoes. No: a sack of potatoes where the seams have split and things are threatening to fall out of the sides. And that’s only when he’s not stiff as the proverbial board. Carrying Boo is a hold your breath kind of activity and not only because you are trying to engage that core you keep working on for fear that one day you will not be strong enough to carry your child. You hold your breath in case he or you fall as he goes into extension or he loses all his muscle tone and dribbles to the floor like jelly.

It was clear to me and to the healthcare professionals who had persuaded me to do the application that we needed a blue badge. We needed the ability to open his car door to 90 degrees. We needed the space for safety. His safety. I submitted all the medical evidence, lamented that this was how I was spending the evening of my son’s second birthday and hoped for the best. We got a blue badge, although only for a year when, we were told, we would have to reapply, because everyone knows that severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy can just vanish overnight when you hit 36 months. I reapplied just before his third birthday and we received another one for him for a few more years.

The blue badge makes a huge difference to our lives. I won’t lie, the financial benefits are considerable. If I am lucky enough to get in one of the free disabled spaces at our local hospital where Boo has so many appointments, that can save us between twenty to forty pounds of parking fees every month. But to be honest, for us, the safety issues are paramount. Being near where we need to get to with huge bits of equipment. Being able to get Boo out of the car safely. Being able to do so without putting any more pressure on my struggling back with its bulging disc than I have to.

But let me also say this, because a couple of very awkward and upsetting incidents recently have made me feel like I need to say this publicly: I get NO pleasure out of having to have a blue badge for my son. I would give every penny and every limb and vital organ I have for my child not to be disabled. I can’t believe I even have to say this.

And yet, since having the blue badge we have been challenged about using it on more than one occasion. The problem lies, like most problems, in ignorance. When you say blue badge holder, many people obviously have a set vision in their head that is sometimes very far from reality.

Not all drivers of cars with blue badge holders in them are elderly. Not all blue badge holders drive. My son, for instance, will likely never be able to drive himself anywhere. But people see me, a just about on the right side of forty-year-old and see me pull into a disabled space and think I’m a lazy person who can’t be bothered to walk more than five metres to the shops. Or they momentarily clock the kids in the back and think I’m one of those people who thinks parent and child spaces and disabled spaces are the same things. (Do such people really exist?)

We are frequently stared at when we pull into blue badge spaces and usually anxiously pull out the blue badge and clock from the door bin before entering car parks to wave them in the faces of the disbelieving. On more than one occasion, this has not been enough.

A few months ago, while on a trip with relatives to a National Trust property, a driver who pulled into the space next to us said very loudly: ‘Parents are so ****ing inconsiderate when they think because they have a buggy they can park anywhere. Don’t they know these spaces are for people who are really disabled?’ My cheeks grew red and hot and the tears burned behind my eyes as I worked out what to say. Thankfully, I didn’t need to because my outraged sister replied instantly: ‘My nephew [who we hadn’t yet got out got out of the car] has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. How much more disabled would you like him to be to park here?’

Just a few weeks ago, another person, in the most unlikely place you could imagine, banged (yes: banged) on our car window as I parked in a disabled space, and shouted in a tone so loud and hostile it caused both of the Boos to cry that we couldn’t park there and how selfish we were. When we showed our blue badge the individual became flustered and embarrassed but continued with a tirade of abuse about my parking ability. I may not be Louis Hamilton, but I was parked well within all the lines of the space as marked out.

Blue badge holders and people like me who drive around a blue badge holder (the badge is Boo’s not mine and I would NEVER park in a disabled space if he weren’t with me in the car) know better than any how much spaces designed for disabled people are abused by those who are ‘running late’, ‘just getting dry cleaning’ or ‘buying fags’ or ‘the paper’. Such abuses of a facility that materially benefits people in a way non-disabled people may well struggle to understand are worse than thoughtless.

But let me be clear: no one has the right to make judgements about whether a car pulling into a disabled space has a right to be there or not until they have waited to see the blue badge pulled out. Many blue badge holders are not drivers but passengers who can’t immediately be seen through a long stare through a windscreen. If either of the women who have shouted at us recently had taken one look at Boo it would have dispelled any suspicions they had about whether we ‘deserve’ his blue badge or not. But this is also beside the point. Lots of disabilities are not immediately visible. This doesn’t make them any less real.

The occasions when we have been challenged about using Boo’s blue badge have been awful. They have been awful because no one likes to be told off in a public place, not least when you’ve done nothing wrong. They are awful because you are being treated like one of the thoughtless people who abuse blue badge spaces and make you and your child’s life harder (‘oh sorry, I was only getting my lottery ticket’).

Mostly, in my experience, they are awful because they turn the most simple things, like going to buy milk, going on a family day out, or return a book to your local library into another thing in your life about disability. They remind you that there is no going back. That your family is different. That people don’t understand.

No one wants people to stop the abuse of disabled parking spaces more than people like us, but you know what? Why not leave it to the traffic attendants to sort out? Blue badges are not your problem.

And one final thing: they are not our privilege either. I cried throughout the entire duration of the time it took me to fill out the online application and payment for Boo’s blue badge when I did it on the night of his second birthday and I wept more tears when I had to renew it 11 months later. I would give anything for us not to have that bit of blue card in my car, even though we need it for Boo’s safety and our own. Treating us as if we are lucky to have a blue badge is almost as awful as accusing us of abusing a blue badge space when we are entitled to use it.

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21 thoughts on “Seeing Red over Blue Badges

  1. Pingback: Public labels; public attitudes. | May Contain 2% Owl.

  2. Single Mother Ahoy

    My mum has a blue badge, and whenever I’m out with her I feel like I should let her get out of the car with her crutches first, so that onlookers can see there’s definitely a disabled person in the car.
    People really are knobs sometimes, aren’t they. Your sister sounds like a legend though, what luck that she was with you that day!

    Reply
    1. mrboosmum Post author

      Hello! My sister is a complete legend and yes: people can be just awful. I’m so sorry you and your Mum go through this too. Why does parking turn rational individuals into judgemental and hostile people?

      Reply
  3. dinkyandme

    Reblogged this on Dinky and Me and commented:
    I totally agree with the sentiments, although for us the circumstances are different, but the hostility is just as bad, as is the culture of ‘oh your lucky you can park so close’- lucky isn’t the term I’d use for having a child with Autism or other disability.

    Reply
    1. mrboosmum Post author

      Thank you so much for reading and reblogging. After I got over the horrible surprise of our last experience, I thought, if only the person involved had seen Boo, she wouldn’t have been in any doubts. But then I started to think about all the other disabilities people really need blue badges for, that aren’t visible and was even more shocked. I am so sorry that you have faced such hostility too!

      Reply
      1. matildathecat

        I have a relatively invisible disability and am in constant fear of the BB Police ( self appointed). Just recently I was spoken tonsonrudely by another BB holder. Apparently I don’t ‘look’ disabled. I do have a stock reply but it is so very upsetting. It must be a million times worse to defend the rights of your severely disabled child.

  4. twinderelmo2014

    I feel absolutely disgusted that anyone would ever jump to such a conclusion let alone bang on the window to hurl abuse. This post gave me goose pimples reading it and not in a good way. I feel so sad that you ever had to write this and that there are so many horrible people out there. I also think it is just ridiculous that you have to apply every year – I hope it’s not a time consuming affair. I miss the days where people were treated on a personable basis not just a reference number on a computer system.

    Reply
    1. mrboosmum Post author

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment. His blue badge now last a few years. The only reason we had to apply after a year for the first time was because he was 2 and they made it quite clear it wasn’t something they normally issued to a child that young, despite the government website’s declarations, but not all areas do things the same way. But it is never a nice thing to do. I don’t feel lucky that we have a blue badge and I don’t know either my people are so quick to judge or treat them as a reference number, as you say!

      Reply
  5. Michèle Alter Brenton

    made worse by all pain killers.
    We have had some horrible experiences with people saying some very cruel things. We all need to cut each other some slack and not make snap judgements about anybody. It bothers me that people often say, “I would never abuse the blue badge but I’ve seen lots of other people do that.” Unless you have seen that person’s medical records and lived in their body you can’t know what they are experiencing.

    Reply
  6. Michèle Alter Brenton

    Sorry my post didn’t go in properly – this is what I meant to post:
    You are not gaining financially because you save money when parking at a hospital for Boo’s appointments. That blue badge is to help you try and regain some of the independence you and Boo lose due to society not being geared up to reduce the disabling barriers you face every day in your situation. You didn’t choose to have all those appointments and because Boo has a permanent condition he should get free parking anyway because he needs more appointments than other people would need and you shouldn’t be financially disadvantaged by that. So no – that is not a plus really – it is what you are entitled to and you both deserve. That blue badge is not a golden ticket to extra privileges it is a reasonable adjustment to try and even out the playing field – and a pretty inadequate one it is for all that.

    One thing I will say though is please be careful about judging people who may look as if they are not disabled and who are driving and parking using a blue badge. Not all disabilities are visible. My husband has a degenerative collagen disorder which means his joints are basically crumbling away on the inside. It doesn’t show if you don’t pay attention carefully and you can’t tell from looking how much pain he is in.

    He has a wheelchair but can’t wheel it himself because his shoulders aren’t up to it and he tries not to use it because one day he’ll have no choice but right now he can choose to live with the pain in order to keep some cardiovascular exercise going. He can’t use sticks either because if he leans on sticks his shoulders dislocate and his arms go numb. But it hurts all the time and pain medication comes with side effects he can’t live with as he has dreadful tinnitus which is made worse by all pain killers.
    We have had some horrible experiences with people saying some very cruel things.

    We all need to cut each other some slack and not make snap judgements about anybody. It bothers me that people often say, “I would never abuse the blue badge but I’ve seen lots of other people do that.” Unless you have seen that person’s medical records and lived in their body you can’t know what they are experiencing.

    Reply
    1. mrboosmum Post author

      I am so sorry that to hear about your family’s experiences and couldn’t agree more. We all need to judge less. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  7. Sharlene Taylor

    Me and my other half are 43 when have a completely able 11 year old. We park up at the disabled spot and get looks all the time…I can see people faces (especially the elderly) just waiting to ask what the hell we are doing parking in a disabled space. We place our blue badge on the dashboard and they are still looking ( after all we are a relatively young family right?!). Then DP gets out and stands by the car to wait until either me or our son takes him by his hand …with his white cane in the other hand we walk into the store. I really wish people would not be so quick to judge.

    Reply
    1. mrboosmum Post author

      This is just so awful. I don’t know what makes people so quick to judge in this particular kind of situation. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  8. Academic owl

    Thank you for writing this.
    My mum is disabled and I’m afraid to say that the assumptions and discrimination made by strangers when you need a blue badge don’t stop with age (well, maybe you have to look old?). It’s weird when complete strangers feel a need to comment and I don’t understand it.
    I’ve recently experienced a very mild version; I’ve had quite nasty spd and can walk about 100-200m with the aid of a walker. (It’s my own fault – 3rd pregnancy – should have known better, etc). But people’s attitudes have been fascinating. I’ve been asked by complete strangers out of the blue whether I have ms; when I’ve borrowed a scooter to shop, I’ve had people ‘just nip in front’ (& nearly get run over) and I think somehow people can’t hold two ‘issues’ in their head at the same time – they see wheels and think ‘disabled’ and can’t cope with ‘pregnant’ too. Let alone mum to two small children!
    However, as a (temporarily) disabled mum to a child with a non-neurotypical development, my height of amusement is saved for using the disabled toilet. People get very angry & it’s only if I have my walker that I get apologies for making use of a more spacious toilet where my son doesn’t scream over whether someone will use the hand-drier (after people have tutted!).
    At the end of the day, it’s other people’s weird hang ups. Ignoring them is the way forwards – it sounds like you are doing a wonderful job with Boo – that’s the important bit. Sending you lots of supportive wishes 🙂

    Reply
  9. Joanne P

    I have been shouted at, screamed at, heckled, questioned, abused and all because I have a blue badge. People are awful and there is where I live a certain type of elder person who do all of the above and more, one of them even asked me what exactly was my disability and who was my doctor. It is really hard to ignore them, I did argue with them all for quite some time in the past but now I don’t get involved and that’s the best way for me. Don’t react don’t take on board their ignorance remember you have a son who has a right to that badge that’s all there is to it, they go away after a while and you can get on with your day. Must admit I agree with the other reviewer your sister does sound pretty special.

    Reply
  10. Leigh Kendall

    People can be really bloody awful sometimes. So quick to judge and point the finger. So sorry this happened to you – I have little doubt you would much rather have no use for the disabled space for Boo. Your sister is fab. Hugs xxx

    Reply
  11. sully road residents

    Once I was verbally abused over using the blue badge by a woman who had just reversed out of the spot herself, without a blue badge, clutching the cigarettes she’d just run in and bought… clearly in her opinion I was taking the piss and making out I was disabled as I was so fat in her opinion……the woman ranted and swore at me, while I helped my then 9 year old who has cerebral palsy out of the car to whom the badge belongs. (I should add, maybe she did me a favour, I’m now 5 stone lighter…but what a nasty judgemental society we live in) My daughter is very determined, and walks everywhere And rarely uses her wheelchair, it’s hard to tell sometimes that she is disabled….no-one is really aware how effortful walking is for her, or how tired she gets, or how her epilepsy means that sometimes she’s a bit vulnerable in a car park and isn’t aware of traffic…the blue badge really really helps us make days out or shopping trips easier, because we can park near somewhere, thus she isn’t wiped out before we’ve even got to where we are going. People make awful assumptions, you’re absolutely correct, and are very quick to judge her and me. Awfully, even she is very aware of this now, and I’ve known her slow down and lean on me more, so that people realise she needs her badge. I’m sorry you’ve had this experience, I’ve now adopted a don’t give a Toss attitude after many years….it’s tragic we live in such a selfish society. I like to think we are very considerate badge users, we only use disabled spots if we need them, and never ever use the badge unless my daughter is with us.
    Incidentally we were flying back from Rome yesterday. We joined the special assist queue as we needed a transfer through the airport as it’s very large. A family were clearly outraged that somehow in their eyes, we were pushing in as we had kids, they loudly berated me and my selfishness, whilst shooting dirty looks at me and the kids. Sadly they didn’t hang around long enough to see the wheelchair arrive, nor were they aware what a massive pain in the arse it is to be shunted through the airport in this way….no freedom to wander round the shops, stop for A bite to eat , just being moved from one special assist area to another until we get to the gate. I don’t think these people will ever understand, so I’m not ever going to bother trying. Xx

    Reply
  12. Angela Cran

    I empathise completely. My late son, who died three years ago aged 8, was diagnosed aged 5 with a llife-shortening condition called pulmonary hypertension. He looked like a ‘typical’ wee boy but suffered increasing breathlessness to the point where he couldn’t walk. Initially after diagnosis he was put on IV meds, in a backpack under his top, and didn’t ‘look’ I’ll though he was desperately so. People stared at me too. Soon he had to use a wheelchair, then oxygen 24/7, and people stared for different reasons. We also found disabled parking too limited, and fought a parking fine given to us for parking ‘illegally’ outside the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh as there were no disabled spaces free and literally nowhere else to park. Like you, I never abused the blue badge system, and still don’t now I have no blue badge. Sometimes the most ill people – including children – do not outwardly appear so. Sadly, there is a lot of ignorance in society. Stay strong, Boo needs you that way – thanks for sharing your experience x

    Reply
    1. mrboosmum Post author

      Angela, thank you so much for reading and commenting and sharing your experiences while caring for your son. I am so dreadfully sorry to read that he passed away. We are so quick to judge in this society. People often have very little sense of the effects of their snap responses. As if the lives of children with life-shortening conditions, such as your boy, or disabled or sick children are not difficult enough. I really appreciate your kind and encouraging comments. Thank you.

      Reply
  13. Victoria Welton

    I just thought I would pop over and see how you were doing. I am SO with you on this post and I am so sorry you are having to put up with all the crap that people give to disabled drivers. It is bad enough that you have to deal with these issues without these people making it worse. Ross has a disabled badge and we are dreading using it. It is because he has no large intestine due to ulcerative colitis but I am just waiting for the day we get a mouthful! I am thinking of you and hoping you are coping. Lots of love xx

    Reply

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