One of the things that I find really difficult is the bureaucracy and pigeonholing that goes along with disability. As a person with a disability I am expected to fit into a neat little box. There doesn’t seem to be any human element to decision making. I appreciate that the more human a system is the more room there is for differences of opinions and the system being taken advantage of but it just doesn’t seem to work in its current format.
I have been having a long-term argument with Cornwall Council about parking with a blue badge. I have a blue badge because “I drive a vehicle regularly, and have a severe disability in both arms that means I am unable to operate all or some types of parking meter”. This description is taken directly from the blue badge application. So I have a blue badge because I can’t use a parking meter, yet in Cornwall even with a blue badge, you have to pay for parking. Using a meter. Which I can’t use. The council say that I should use their Ringo service and pay by phone. This is now what I do but it costs 20p to use the service. It costs 70p to park for one hour. That means I pay almost 30% more to park than someone who is able to use a ticket machine and who doesn’t have a blue badge.
I don’t honestly know what the answer to this situation is and I’ve given up fighting it. I just carry on paying my 28.5% extra compared to everyone else. Or drive to Plymouth where it is free to park with a blue badge. I’d be perfectly happy to pay the same amount as everyone else I just don’t really want to pay more.
I’ve also recently entered into a discussion with the DVLA. I have a friend who has the same disability as me, she’s just bought her first car and was telling me about the adaptations that she has to have fitted to the car because of restrictions on her driving licence. This prompted me to check my licence to make sure that I didn’t have any restrictions. To my great surprise I found that I do have a restriction. Just one, number 35 “modified control layouts”.
When I was 12 I started to save for my first car, I desperately wanted a classic mini. A few months before my 17th birthday I went for a driving assessment and was told that there was no way that I would ever drive a mini. I would need a brand new automatic car with power steering and £12000 worth of adaptations which I would need to pay for myself as I don’t qualify for motability. So obviously I then bought a mini. Milly, a red Mini Sprite, a manual, without power steering. I loved her from the moment I saw her. I had an extension put onto the gear stick and had a fly off handbrake fitted. My dad moved some of the switches that were trickier to reach so that I could manage and he lowered the steering wheel. It took me just over a year to learn to drive. I’d have a few lessons then would need to tweak something slightly and it took time for me to build up the muscle power to steer. Thankfully it cost around £200 to adapt my car and I learnt to drive in the car I loved.
I continued to drive Milly for many years, she was my only car for about 11 years. I still have her but she’s enjoying retirement in the garage. She just comes out for shows and short trips as she will be 21 in November and she deserves a bit of a rest. I decided that moving further from work and having a longer commute I really needed a more reliable car. Paul and I spent months looking for the right car. I was very aware of how much adaptations could cost so I wanted to find something that I could manage as it was. It’s all very well making some cheap adaptations to a classic mini but modern cars are more complex and adaptations would need to be done properly.
We eventually bought an automatic Kia Picanto. I drove Jilly the Picanto for a few years without needing any adaptations but I often had a sore back and this got worse when I fell pregnant so we decided that it was time for a new car. We began searching local garages, trying every car in an effort to find something that would work for me. In the end we settled on an automatic Mercedes C-class (Klaus). I have no issues driving Klaus (apart from wrestling the keys from Paul at times), I can manage everything and can drive in comfort.
So realising that my driving licence has a restriction on was a bit of a shock. I understand that Milly was adapted and I learnt to drive in her so this is reflected in my licence however this was never pointed out to me when I passed my test. I emailed the DVLA to try to clarify the situation and I was told that I could have the restriction removed from my licence if I retake my test. I hate the thought of retaking my test, largely because quite honestly I will do anything to avoid reverse parallel parking these days so the idea of being assessed on my ability to do this terrifies me. But also because I don’t really feel that that should be necessary when it is only a question of being able to reach some controls. This could easily be assessed without the need to retake my test. I was still a little confused as to whether or not I am allowed to drive my unadapted car so I replied to their email asking them to clarify this.
In the meantime my husband phoned the DVLA to clarify what “modified control layouts” actually means. The man on the phone assured us that the restriction is advisory rather than mandatory so it’s fine to continue to drive my car without doing anything. This was very reassuring as I was becoming quite worried that my insurance wouldn’t be valid if I had an accident as I shouldn’t have been driving!
This morning I received another reply from the DVLA, they said that I shouldn’t be driving my car without adaptations as my licence has this restriction. They then suggested that I could perhaps move one of the switches so that the car meets the criteria of having a modified control layout despite the fact that I can reach all of the controls without moving them. The other option is to be assessed to show that I can manage everything. If I send them a written report saying that I can manage with a covering letter then they will consider removing the restriction. They didn’t say who should be asked to write the report, I’m guessing a letter from my mum won’t do the job!
So I’ve now had three different responses. I have replied and asked them to tell me which of the three answers is the correct one. If I go to a mobility centre for an assessment I will have to pay for a report so I don’t want to do this if it’s unnecessary but equally I don’t want to find that I’m driving illegally and my insurance is invalid.
I don’t mind there being a restriction on my licence as I did learn to drive in a modified car but the restriction is so ambiguous, it doesn’t really mean anything and doesn’t include a lot of the adaptations that I had on that car. Apparently it only refers to windscreen wipers, lights etc. it doesn’t include the gear stick, handbrake or steering adaptations. I also wouldn’t mind so much if someone could give me a clear answer about what I now need to do to ensure that I am driving legally.
I would have thought that a restriction that states that I must be able to reach and use all of the controls would be more sensible? Or is that too simple? Sorry, rant over! It’s just difficult, just at the point where I feel like I am able to start leaving the house on my own, I find that I may not be allowed to drive!