York Council needs think again on blue badge ban plan - Helen Jones

LEADERS of York Council are preparing to take away the right of disabled people to access key city centre streets by car or taxi. It’s not right, it’s not fair – it’s just plain wrong.

Blue badges are issued to disabled people so they can park close to places they visit. Blue badges can also be used by disabled people travelling by taxi so they can get dropped off close to their destination.

Last year, York Council suspended blue badge access to a few crucial city centre streets that had allowed holders to access before Covid. The local authority said it was in response to the pandemic and would help pedestrians observe social distancing.

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Officers now recommend making the ban permanent, on the grounds that letting disabled people travel into the city centre by car or taxi increases the risk of terrorist attacks. If the council’s executive backs the ban on Thursday, it will be enforced between 10.30am and 7pm, every day of the year.

Image: JPIMedia.Image: JPIMedia.
Image: JPIMedia.
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Disabled people and their representative bodies have been campaigning on this for a long time. The current ban – which was supposed to be temporary – means a lot of disabled people simply cannot come into the city centre at all.

Disabled people enjoy shopping and going for coffee and visiting the wonderful independent businesses in York city centre. I should know – I have a blue badge myself.

We are people, we have friends and family that we want to meet up with, and we are residents of York. We’re part of this great city, or we should be.

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We have human rights, and as disabled people we have additional protection under the law. We have the right to non-discrimination which says we shouldn’t be excluded from services or a social life or employment because of our disability. We have the right to accessibility, and we have the right to participate in society as full and active participants.

Anytime someone has a right, there is someone else who has a responsibility, and the council has responsibilities around equality both in terms of human rights and the Equality Act 2010.

Under the law, York Council should be working to eliminate discrimination, yet it is instead actively discriminating against people with a blue badge.

Second, the council should be working towards equality of opportunity between those of us who are disabled and those who are not. It is widening the gap, not closing it.

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Third, it is supposed to be fostering good relations between disabled and non-disabled people. By being able to access the city centre, we can live alongside each other and support each other.

If you’re not disabled yourself, you almost certainly know someone who is – we are a fifth of the population.

Some of you will become disabled in your lifetime. You may not be a blue badge holder yet, but the way disability has been talked about and openly discriminated against in York should be of upmost concern to all residents. Yes, it is blue badge holders whose rights are being taken away at the moment, but if we, as a city, allow that to happen, we open the door for further, future discrimination against all disabled people.

This is about more than disabled people who have a vehicle. It’s about blue badge holders who use taxis to get to a suitable dropping-off point in the city centre.

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It’s about knowing that once you’re in the city centre, you can get picked up again, whether by taxi or by friend or relative. Having a blue badge is not a perk; it’s essential for independence and inclusion.

We also don’t feel like the council is giving credit to the common sense of people in York. There is also clear evidence from other cities, and from an independent expert report the council itself commissioned, that there are solutions which limit traffic while still allowing access for blue badge holders. We’re not talking hundreds of vehicles here – more like 60 a day on several streets at different times of day.

There are simple solutions which will protect the city and at the same time protect disabled rights. It’s not too late for council leaders to see the light.

Don’t ban the blue badge!z

Helen Jones is a campaigner with York Disability Rights Forum.

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