By Nu McAdam

If you’ve always been curious about how disabled people get around the country, for work or just to see family, stay with me. You’re going to want to hear about this.

I’m a quadriplegic, powered wheelchair user and I have full time care. I was lucky enough to experience the Motability scheme and the perks of having a car that was perfectly accessible for me at a very young age. However, almost 12 years ago to the day, I was living with my father and we both received quite a large insurance bill from Motability. This would be the end of my journey of having a vehicle that helped me get to places more easily and not having to use inaccessible public transport.

I remember how important it was to find out how many blue badge parking spaces were available before I went to things like concerts or conventions. I was 20 when I lost my vehicle (and the freedom it gave me) to the extortionate prices my carers were being asked to fork out for insurance.

Brighton has been known to be extremely progressive when it comes to disability rights and advocating for those with illnesses. It’s also known to be one of the best cities for a disabled person to live in, as Brighton and Hove City Council has defended the rights of disabled people to have 24-hour care and still continues to invest money into the independence of those individuals – one of them being me.

However, things took quite a downturn six years ago when I started to notice that a lot of the blue badge spaces, which were available to all residents who had disabilities, suddenly started to disappear. This was especially evident in the center of town, which seemed really strange to me as many disabled people from around the outside of Brighton and Hove and parts of Sussex rely quite heavily on these blue badge spaces and almost all of them were taken up every weekend. So, why were they disappearing?

The simple truth is that electric vehicles and their charging spaces have taken up the vast majority of these blue badge spaces. I don’t know whether to blame the Green Party or the council for the fact that they couldn’t see that both electric vehicles and blue badge spaces were needed in the city. Why was one trumping the other? In 2020, a Facebook group known as ‘BADGE’ was started, as a way to talk about the difficulties that disabled people were having parking in the local area of Brighton and Hove. This was a response to the road layout changes during the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to loss of parking as well as limiting access to essential amenities: in Brighton during the pandemic, a lot of car-free zones were developed in the city centre as a way of lowering carbon emissions.

Sadly, electric vehicle spaces and charging areas are not the only reason for disabled badge spaces disappearing. Several councils in the country have been taking away blue badge parking spaces in order to gentrify unused areas. In the centre of Oldham, blue badge parking spaces have been removed in order to create a taxi rank and a pop-up theatre. Depending on recent housing construction and student accommodations, in areas of Brighton this is quite a common theme – gentrification making way for inaccessible parking and removal of spaces.

The Covid-19 pandemic only amplified these simmering issues. Council priorities shifted dramatically. Suddenly the focus was on creating ‘wealthier’ cities, and the marginalised, including the disabled community, were pushed further to the fringes. This is just the beginning of the story. My fight, the fight of countless disabled people across the UK, is far from over. We need accessible streets, not just for ourselves, but for all those who may find themselves navigating life on wheels – the elderly, accident victims, even those with temporary injuries can need the use of a wheelchair.

Moving forward, we need a multi-pronged approach:

  • First, we need a national conversation about inclusive green Sustainable cities don’t get built by pushing people out; they thrive on diversity and accessibility
  • Second, we need increased government funding for affordable, accessible electric vehicles. Let’s create a future where environmental consciousness and freedom go hand in hand
  • Third, there needs to be a complete overhaul of urban Architects and city councils must include accessibility as a core principle, not an afterthought. Every new development, every redesign project, needs to take into account the needs of the disabled community
  • Finally, we need to raise awareness within environmental Disability rights are not separate from the fight for a sustainable future; they are two sides of the same coin.

Positive social changes can happen if we find a common ground making sure that anyone with temporary or long-term disabilities are given equity over equality. We have the opportunity to solve multiple issues in parallel rather than one by one. In order to do this, we need to remember to be smart and calm with our actions. We need to be able to listen to one another without being reactive. I believe this is probably the biggest challenge that we must face, as we’re all too willing to project our emotions onto others without reflecting on previous experiences. How many times have we repeated the same pattern, without looking delicately to the past for guidance? Let’s all try to take a breath and not make impulsive decisions.