Ministers have announced plans to give people with hidden disabilities, citing examples such as dementia and autism, greater access to blue badges.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said the proposals would herald the most significant changes since the blue badge was introduced in 1970.
The government department does not give a specific list of non-physical conditions that could be included in the scheme but seeks to 'broaden the qualifying criteria to include people who experience difficulties other than walking and need assistance'.
The consultation document states: 'Eligibility under the current scheme is primarily aimed at those who have “a permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking”.'
This consultation is seeking views on a proposition to change this criterion to the following:
a person who has an enduring and substantial disability the effect of which is that that person is unable to-
- i walk;
- ii undertake any journey without it causing very considerable difficulty when walking;
- iii undertake any journey without there being a risk of very considerable harm to the health or safety of that person or any other person;
- iv follow the route of any journey without another person, assistance animal or orientation aid.
It said expanding access to the scheme would help remove barriers to travel for people with hidden disabilities, allowing them better access to work, shops and amenities and increasing parity between physical and mental health.
Transport minister Jesse Norman said: ‘Blue badges give people with disabilities the freedom to get jobs, see friends or go to the shops with as much ease as possible.
‘We want to try to extend this to people with invisible disabilities, so they can enjoy the freedom to get out and about, where and when they want.’
About 2.4 million disabled people in England currently have a blue badge, allowing them to park on roads without charge and normally without time limit.
The DfT said councils have different interpretations of the existing rules with some recognising hidden disabilities, but the changes proposed would give a clear and consistent guidelines for the whole of England.
The proposed changes could also see a variety of healthcare professionals, 'who are better placed to identify if mental health causes mobility issues', carry out assessments to determine if a blue badge should be given.
Sarah Lambert, head of policy at the National Autistic Society, said the proposal could see many more autistic people qualifying for a blue badge, ‘which can be a lifeline’.
She said: ‘There are an estimated 700,000 autistic people in the UK and whilst every person on the autism spectrum is different, for some, not being able to park in a predictable place close to a destination can cause a great deal of anxiety and put their safety at risk.
‘However, current blue badge rules mean that all-too-often autistic people don’t qualify. The National Autistic Society has raised this issue with government over recent years and we are pleased to see they have listened to the concerns of autistic people and their families.’
A consultation on the proposals will last eight weeks.