A national newspaper has sparked furious criticism from disabled people after claiming that supermarkets are being forced to provide four times more accessible parking bays than are needed.
The Daily Mail claims disability discrimination laws mean “hundreds of thousands” of “prime parking spaces” near stores’ entrances are left empty after being reserved for blue badge-holders.
The article claims shopping centre carparks must by law allocate up to six per cent of their spaces to disabled shoppers “even though just 1.4 per cent of the population is registered disabled”.
And it contrasts the “unused” spaces with the “fight” by “millions of mothers and fathers with young children” for “a meagre number” of parent and child spaces.
The article came as the Baywatch campaign published the results of its latest survey, which found that abuse of accessible bays in two of the big four supermarket chains had risen since the last survey in 2007.
The Mail’s website was flooded with angry comments from disabled readers, with one saying the article was “offensive” and another describing it as “a disgrace”, and scores saying they could never find a free accessible space at their local supermarket.
One said: “When I shop, it doesn’t matter which town or supermarket, I usually find I’m unable to get a disabled parking spot. So I end up parking further away.”
Another said: “As a disabled driver I find this article offensive. In my experience it is rare to find an empty disabled bay.”
Helen Smith, director of policy and campaigns for the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise, wrote to the Mail, saying she was “absolutely disgusted” with the article.
She pointed out that there were 2.6 million blue badge holders – and not the far lower number implied by the article – and that the figure of six per cent was not a legal obligation but a government recommendation.
Smith said the badge was “a lifeline” to disabled people and that Mobilise members “would not in many cases even be able to go shopping if it wasn’t for spaces close to the doors with extra width to get out”.
She added: “Abuse in some supermarkets has risen to an all time high and some disabled people are finding parking and therefore shopping impossible.”
Charles Garside, assistant editor of the Daily Mail, said it was “not in any shape or form an article against people with disabilities” and that he did not read it as “being critical of disabled people”.
He said: “We would support the fact that everybody who has a blue badge should have a place to park.”
And he said he hoped the article had provoked debate around the “vexed question” of parking spaces for different groups.
But Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, pointed out that disabled people who challenge those who abuse blue badge spaces were often subjected to “a tirade of abuse or even threats and harassment”.
He said the article was “guilty of stirring already muddy water, by potentially creating the stereotypical and totally unacceptable view that disabled people either don’t need or actually abuse blue parking badges”.
Brookes said the issue “needs sorting out by users, supermarkets and local anti-social behaviour agencies, and certainly by better, more responsible reporting”.
23 February 2010