A mother of disabled twins who was refused a blue parking badge on the grounds that her children were too young has begun a campaign to change the criteria.
Sarah Johnson, 41, from Meopham, Kent, created a petition asking the government to revise its criteria for a blue badge, and said the response has been "incredibly supportive" so far - with other parents getting in touch to say they also have young disabled children who have been refused a blue badge.
She said: "Lots of people give up because when you're trying to juggle the medical needs of your children, especially if you've got multiple children, it takes you away from actually giving the medical care that your kids need."
Astrid and Iris, 2, are identical twins who both have cerebral palsy dyskinesia, which not only makes their mobility more difficult but can cause involuntary movement and spasms.
Her daughters experience the condition in different ways. Astrid can't walk and or stand independently, and Iris can walk 'a tiny bit' but falls over often. In talking about Iris, Johnson said, "If you have to step up into anything or even step over the carpet, she finds it really, really difficult."
Despite the severity of the twins' mobility issues, the application for a blue badge was turned down. She was told that as they were under the age of 3 and didn't require any bulky equipment, the twins were not eligible for a blue badge.
Johnson said: "It seems fundamentally unfair that just because you happen to be under three, that you're told your experiences of the world have to be restricted. So I would like it reviewed in Parliament, to consider a change in the law to make it more accessible for parents for those with disabilities whose children are under three."
Astrid was given a Kaye Walker to help her with getting around, so Johnson decided to reapply as her daughter now has equipment. Unfortunately, it was turned down yet again as the equipment was considered not bulky enough.
Johnson tried every avenue to get the decision overturned; her local MP has been in touch with the council, and her post on X (formerly known as Twitter) gained traction with 350k views. But public interest and support from a politician were not enough to sway the council's decision.
In 2019, the minimum age for a blue badge was raised from 2 to 3 years old. The government website that has the criteria states that for children under 3, one of the following two reasons must apply: you have a child under the age of 3 with a medical condition that means the child always needs to be accompanied by bulky medical equipment or you have a child under the age of 3 with a medical condition that means the child must always be kept near a vehicle in case they need emergency medical treatment.
According to data from the Department for Transport, 1 in 22 people have a blue badge. At the end of March 2023, there were 2.57 million blue badges.
Johnson was told by multiple doctors that the twins could benefit from swimming, but they haven't been able to go as the parking would be too far.
Johnson said: "We don't go to playgroups, hospital appointments become particularly difficult." She has an upcoming appointment at Moorfield Hospital in London, and she's trying to figure out how she will get there.
Who is eligible for a Blue Badge, and what does it do?
The Blue Badge scheme allows those with disabilities to park in a bay that is marked as disabled. Those reserved bays bring people closer to the entrance of hospitals or businesses. Parking in a disabled bay without a blue badge can lead to fines. In order to qualify for a blue badge, the person would need to meet strict criteria, which include if they cannot walk at all, have issues such as pain or missing limbs that affect their walking, frequent anxiety that is triggered by public spaces, they can't plan or follow a journey. The complete list is here.
There are some people who automatically get a blue badge. This could be because they are in receipt of particular benefits, are registered as blind or have a permanent and substantial disability that impacts their walking, which was caused by serving in the armed forces.
A blue badge doesn't only mean closer parking, it can also allow someone to be exempt from the congestion charge in London, exemption from paying Road Tax, and in Scotland, they could apply for exemption from Low Emission Zone (LEZ). The badge isn't fixed to one vehicle, it can be taken to any car that the owner is in, including cabs.
Blue badge applications are free in Wales, £10 in England and £20 in Scotland. You can apply here.