As lockdown eased and shops and cafés reopened, disability lifestyle vlogger and wheelchair user Gem Hubbard found that many disabled parking bays had been blocked off without any alternative offered. Now, Gem is fighting for change.
When the nationwide lockdown started to ease, disability lifestyle vlogger Gem Hubbard (@wheelsnoheels_) was looking forward to one thing: Taking her mum out for lunch for a special birthday.
Before the big day arrived, Gem needed to carry out her usual errands including shopping in her local area, but the experience wasn’t what she expected.
“The first shop I went to visit all of the disabled bays had been blocked off and there were no suitable alternatives,” reveals Gem.
At the second shop Gem travelled to she had a similar experience. Half of the disabled parking bays had been blocked off, but a long queue to park left her worried she wouldn’t get one of the limited spaces.
Already on edge, the day came for Gem to take her mum out for her birthday lunch, she remembers: “The disabled bays had been blocked off and used for extra outdoor café seating and I just lost it and broke down.”
Feeling like she wasn’t able to leave the house or do something nice, Gem’s mental health began to deteriorate.
“I became very anxious and depressed,” explains Gem. “These things that we have fought so hard for, to be whipped away in a matter of months without consideration is so disheartening and soul destroying, it was chipping away at a piece of me.
“I’ve never had to take medication before for my mental health but now, or at that period of time, I did.”
After rearranging the birthday lunch at a different location, Gem was so anxious about parking that she drove six miles the night before to see what alternatives would be close by if spaces were blocked off. This is a task that nobody should have to consider prior to a nice lunch.
When Gem decided to share her experience on social media, the response was massive. Gem has now received countless accounts of disabled parking bays being removed, re-purposed or blocked off via social media.
“I’m inundated with pictures every day, and every day I see them it hurts just as much as the first one I saw,” expresses Gem.
She knew something had to be done and decided to start a petition calling for disabled parking to be brought back because access is a right, not a privilege.
The petition calls for local councils to enforce that disabled bays are not blocked off, or to provide the correct equivalent if there is no other choice.
“We have to have our parking close,” stresses Gem. “We have to have our bays with enough space to get our wheelchairs up to the car, to get to the shop because it takes a lot of effort and pain to get into the car, let alone to go those extra steps into the shops.”
As the petition approaches 12,000 signatures, Gem is encouraging more people to write to their MP and local council in the hope the unjust removal of disabled parking bays is stopped.
If you have been affected and would like to write to your MP or local council, you can find letter templates on Gem’s website, www.wheelsnoheels.co.uk