What Are the Benefits of Disabled Parking Permits for “Hidden Disabilities”?

Most people who apply for a handicap parking permit do so because they have a physical disability that makes getting around difficult. For the most part, DMVs accept proof of these disabilities from a licensed physician that signs off on an application. However, in the U.S., it is less common for people to apply for permits because of “hidden disabilities” like mental illness, autism, or dementia. In the U.K., the Department for Transport announced that in 2019, individuals with “hidden disabilities” will have better access to disabled parking permits (which they call “blue badges”).

Although people with “hidden disabilities” are not currently prohibited from applying for a handicap placard, some of the regulations can be open to interpretation in both the U.K. and the U.S. The Department of Transport recently opened an eight-week public consultation on the topic and received more than 6,000 responses about their efforts to create greater parity between physical and mental health conditions. The new guidelines allow the following situations to be labeled as acceptable diagnoses:

  • If an individual can’t go on a journey without a risk of serious harm to their health or safety or that of another person (like a young child with autism)
  • If they can’t go on a journey without it causing them considerable psychological distress
  • If they have considerable trouble walking (either physically or with the experience of walking)
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The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton, said in a statement, “It’s absolutely right that disabled people are able to go about their daily life without worrying about how they will get from one place to another. We’re taking an important step forward in ensuring people with hidden disabilities get the support they need to live independently.”

If the U.S. were to follow the U.K.’s latest regulations, what are some of the If the U.S. were to follow the U.K.’s latest regulations, what are some of the benefits people with “hidden disabilities” could see with a handicap parking permit?benefits people with “hidden disabilities” could see with a handicap parking permit?

Better access to parking

The biggest benefit is that individuals using a disabled parking permit could head to any establishment that has handicap parking without worrying that the trip will be too difficult for them. Without a permit, individuals often find that they can’t go to specific stores or businesses because it can be too difficult for them to walk from the parking lot to the destination. Closer and more convenient parking means there would be an increase in access to the world around them.

Creates more independence

Individuals who have the freedom to park in handicap parking spots then have the ability to travel anywhere they like. Fewer limits on what they’re able to do means that people can have more independence and can broaden their environment. Disabled parking permits can result in people with “hidden disabilities” getting more involved in their towns and completing any activities they want to do. It can also lead to them being more equipped to go to work or to visit friends, resulting in a greater ability for them to contribute to their communities or to socialize with friends and family.

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Helps parents of children with “hidden disabilities”

Parents who have children diagnosed with autism or developmental disorders (such as Down Syndrome) can benefit greatly from having a handicap parking placard. By allowing parents to park closer, they’ll have a much easier time transporting their child from the parking lot to the location (especially if their child faces difficulties walking long distances). This can make running errands and traveling around their city a whole lot simpler. Allowing parents to interact with their children with less stress means the entire family can function in a healthier way.

Makes “hidden disabilities” more acceptable

People who don’t have obvious physical disabilities often face discrimination when they use disabled parking permits. However, if it becomes more common for individuals with “hidden disabilities” to use disabled placards, it’s likely that society will eventually become more accepting of disabilities that aren’t always visible on the outside. Normalizing mental illness or developmental disorders can help people see that these issues are just as valid as physical ones, making them just as deserving of disabled parking permits. Whether someone needs a handicap placard because they’re in a wheelchair or because walking can be a distressing experience, everyone deserves the right to get assistance through the use of a handicap parking permit.

Some opponents to the new guidelines do worry that there could be some disadvantages to broadening the use of disabled parking permits. Some people are concerned that an increase in placards being given to people with “hidden disabilities” could mean that fewer spots would be available for people with physical disabilities. Others are worried that individuals with “hidden disabilities” will have a harder time proving that they need a permit since physical disabilities can be easier to see or to diagnose.

However, even if there are concerns about the regulation changes, overall, it’s a positive step forward in granting equality to people with disabilities, even if their symptoms aren’t visible to the naked eye. Considering the many benefits that come with awarding “blue badges” to people with “hidden disabilities,” it seems logical that the U.S. should follow in the U.K.’s footsteps and revamp their requirements for disabled parking permits as well.