Blue badge holders used to be able to park in parts of the otherwise pedestrianised city centre, and before you cry “unfair, special privilege”, there’s a good reason for that.
The city has more history in some of its individual streets than some places have in their entire metropolitan areas. But historic streets aren’t friendly places for people who use wheels, or other mobility aids, or who are blind and so on.
Nor are hills and adverse cambers and poorly maintained pavements, which caused me no end of grief on an otherwise pleasant visit to the place last summer.
The City of York Council nonetheless ignored the pleas of disabled groups, and some of its own councillors, and said “badge holders out” (temporarily) during the “foot street” hours of 10.30 to 5pm, and the early evening “in response to Covid safety measures”.
Now, I’m Johnny Covid-Safety. I agree that the virus should be taken seriously. I’m down with masks, boosters, even vaccine mandates in some settings. But I also recognise that “Covid safety” has repeatedly been used to excuse bad behaviour on the part of the authorities. This looks very much like an example of that.
But it gets even worse, because the council has landed on another argument for making the exclusion permanent, which has regularly been deployed with the same sort of cynicism: terrorism.
That’s right. Making the streets accessible to York’s disabled residents is apparently the perfect way to deliver a mass casualty opportunity to frothing fanatics with hate in their hearts.
The police said so, the police said so, the council told me, and offered a lengthy video link to where this was discussed. York has tight streets, you see, and markets where a lot of people like to go.
Needless to say, there are other cities which also have those but that haven’t (yet) decided to shut their disabled residents out.
Also, just think about this. If your fear of terrorism is so great that you’ve decided to effectively close off the city to people with disabilities, then I’m sorry but the terrorists have won. This is nothing short of a craven surrender to them. All those platitudes politicians utter after an attack about how they’ll never win? It makes an absolute mockery of them.
Cast your mind back to recent incidents. Do you remember any of them involving a bloody blue badge? Do you think York’s measures would have done anything to stop the incident that recently took place in Liverpool?
Of course they wouldn’t. This is just the city council casting around for a means of excusing its discrimination.
The statement sent to me goes on to cry the same crocodile tears I got from Waltham Forest, when I became the victim of its crip-tax policy - for which read the random withdrawal of blue badge bays while failing to make the notices visible to wheelchair users so they can be soaked for parking ticket revenue.
There’s a lot of guff about “listening to and discussing alternative access arrangements with blue badge holders for over two years”, “extensive considerations and extremely difficult decisions” and a vague promise of future improvements that “will make a difference for many blue badge holders in the city”.
But for now, they have been left with a bank of spaces they’ll have to compete with Uber drivers and delivery lorries for, and you know how that’s going to go. The city’s Disability Rights Forum also tells me that from where they’re located you can reasonably access the historic minster but not much else.
All this from a city which likes to describe itself as “welcoming to all” and even claims to be possessed of an “age-friendly” centre. Yes, that’s right, an age-friendly centre where a substantial proportion of blue badge holders are… well, dear reader, you probably don’t sit on the City of York Council so you don’t need me to spell it out.
This is an ugly story of bureaucracy being used as a club to batter some of a city’s most vulnerable citizens. It contains a particularly nasty postscript.
In July, the council attempted to prevent two of its disabled members from speaking and voting on the issue, as if a blue badge were some sort of financial perk, as opposed to an essential aid to make living in a country that doesn’t do disabled rights at all well, vaguely possible.
I don’t want to get into a game of minority top trumps here, because groups facing discrimination would be best served by standing together. But, do you think York would get away with quibbling about the presence of women councillors in a discussion and vote on, say, an event celebrating their winning the vote? Or gay councillors from a debate about the city’s pride plans? Of course they wouldn’t.
If the council tried to do that, it would deserve to have one of its bin lorries empty its contents out in front of the offices.
That is exactly what the city should have done to it for this disgraceful decision, which comes as a bitter blow to York’s disabled community and to visitors.
The disabled councillors are the ones with a true understanding of just how badly this policy will hurt people. They should be at the forefront of policy making in this area. Nothing about us, without us.
As it is, York Accessibility Action has launched a crowd funder with the aim of taking legal advice to see whether the council’s moral turpitude is legally problematic. It ought to be, otherwise human rights are an ableist sham.
The Tory central government often seems to think that way. Ditto the Labour London borough of Waltham Forest. Ditto York, which is run by a Liberal Democrat/Green coalition.
Given such a sustained assault from all branches of government and so many parties, disabled Britons desperately need people wearing robes and funny wigs to redress the balance.
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