'Farce' as autistic man is stripped of parking badge despite upcoming law changes

PUBLISHED: 08:58 12 July 2019 | UPDATED: 08:58 12 July 2019

Jack Clements with his dad Phil, who holds the expired disabled badge which Essex County Council refuse to renew. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHY

Jack Clements with his dad Phil, who holds the expired disabled badge which Essex County Council refuse to renew. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHY

Copyright © 2019 Celia Bartlett Photography. All rights reserved.

On the eve of the law changing to allow people with "invisible" disabilities to have blue badges for disabled parking - a family with a severely autistic son has had their badge taken away by Essex County Council.

The council says the badge was awarded "in error" because it was given ahead of the law change.

Jack Clements, from Great Sampford, is 28 but has limited speech and no road sense.

The decision has been made because he is a strapping lad, aged 28, who can walk unaided.

The problem is just that - if he decides to dash across a busy road, his parents will not be able to stop him - because he can run 150 yards.

Jack goes regularly to the St Elizabeth's Centre (which nurtures people with special needs) in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. His family says the centre is a lifeline for him, and he needs to be driven there. Wherever he goes, the car needs to be parked near the destination.

His father, Phil says: "Jack is bigger and stronger than we are. He can easily shrug himself away from my grasp and often jumps from the car to the nearest toilet.

"Mobility is not a problem but awareness of danger is a very real problem."

Jack's family was given a blue badge when he was five. It was removed when he reached 16 but restored after the family's MP at that time, Eleanor Laing (now the deputy speaker) intervened. Now it has been taken away again.

Essex County Council e-mailed Jack (though he is unable to read) saying: "At the time of your assessment you were observed to mobilise 120 metres unaided. Your walking speed would also be considered normal and there were no signs of pain, breathlessness or balance issues."

His dad, Phil, said: "I had already written in to the blue badge team to show my disgust at having to take Jack in for a 're-assessment' of what is a lifelong and unchanging, incurable, severe mental disability. What was the point of dangling him in front of people?

"The farce of making him walk across a car park was demeaning and unnecessary. If the assessor had seen him on one of his dashes across traffic would she have made a stronger case for him?

"What if she'd seen him force a car to make an emergency stop or worse. What if he had forced a driver to swerve into passing children?"

In July last year, the Department of Transport announced that: "People with hidden disabilities, including autism and mental health conditions, will soon have access to blue badges, removing the barriers many face to travel."

The new criteria extends to people who cannot undertake a journey without a risk to serious harm to their health or safety or that of any other person.

The change, which comes into force on August 30, was described as the biggest overhaul to the scheme since the 1970s. The then Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton said: "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."

Jane Harris, from the National Autistic Society, said: "Just leaving the house is a challenge for many of the 600,000 autistic people in England.

"Some might not be aware of the dangers of the road or become overwhelmed by busy or loud environments.

"The possibility of not being able to find a parking space near where you're going can mean you can't contemplate leaving the house at all leading to a life of isolation."

After questioning the decision, Jack's family has now been told, that the blue badge was awarded to them three years ago "in error".

So now, in just a few weeks, Jack, will have to undergo a second, stressful assessment for the blue badge.

A spokesman for Essex County Council, told The Reporter: "The county council processes all blue badge applications or renewals in line with current legislation.

"From August 30, people with hidden disabilities including autism and mental health concerns may be eligible for a badge. There are no changes to the application process/criteria until this date.

"Any applications/appeals received prior to August 30 will be assessed under the current criteria, which assesses if applicants have a significant restriction in their ability to walk, meaning applicants cannot walk, or have considerable difficulty in doing so."

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