LAST week, Darlington Borough Council became the latest authority to roll out parking charges for blue badge holders in their off-street car parks.

The decision, made for financial reasons, targets those who have no option but to rely upon their cars to go about their daily lives, who cannot rely on public transport, cycle or walk distances.

It was made despite a consultation that saw disabled people list the ways in which the move would impact upon them, isolate them and leave them struggling further.

When you are disabled, you (if you have the capacity) and your loved ones must become experts in navigating a world in which there are more obstacles than pathways, where you must rely upon an over-stretched NHS, fight for equal education and representation, and battle a benefits system designed to humiliate and cast doubt upon your circumstances.

You learn quickly your limits and those elements of your environment that limit you, often unnecessarily.

Those who are lucky enough to be physically and mentally well may never recognise the myriad ways in which society, with monotonous regularity, proves inaccessible for those with disabilities.

Therefore, it is vital that the opinions of those with the experience and expertise are not dismissed and disregarded, not lost amid decisions made on their behalf or at their expense.

The council’s consultation in this matter brought about limited concessions but ultimately, the authority failed to bend to the raised voices begging them to reconsider a proposal that will prove detrimentally lifechanging for many.

In rolling out charges for blue badge holders, Darlington’s council focused on potential income over heartfelt pleas from those who know how badly they will be affected, those who recognise this as the latest blow in a war of austerity that has seen the disabled bear the brunt of government cuts many times over.

Living with disabilities under the shadow of austerity is increasingly difficult, with this council’s move adding to a raft of changes made locally and nationally that disadvantage an already disadvantaged population.

As evident in this case, many of these changes are made despite consultations that highlight significant issues, that raise concerns over the life-changing nature of proposals and the impact they will have.

Those raising objections were experts in their own experiences, yet were left feeling ignored as the council ploughed ahead with its plans and failed to act upon or respond adequately to many of their concerns.

In a time of financial hardship, Darlington’s council has extremely difficult decisions to make, but the authority also has a responsibility to recognise the serious nature of the changes it is imposing.

Darlington council is not simply introducing parking charges, it are imposing a system that has the potential to further restrict the lives of disabled people, to set more obstacles in their way and to potentially exacerbate the conditions of those who struggle with mobility.

Any future review should prioritise the lived experiences of residents over the potential of revenue earned at their expense.