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Helping someone to get out and about

Sometimes taking the person you care for out of the house can seem overwhelmingly difficult. It can therefore be easy to fall into the habit of minimising how often you take them out, and for how long. Many carers end up doing jobs like shopping on behalf of the person they care for, for instance, as it’s easier than taking them out to do it for themselves.

However, getting out the house is likely to do the person you care for the world of good. It can have a huge positive impact on their self-esteem if they can do some of their usual tasks for themselves and retain some of their independence. It also gives them more opportunities to interact with other people, stay social and feel connected to the wider world. Plus getting outdoors, having some vitamin D and getting a bit more exercise are all linked to a wide range of health benefits too. [1]

So helping the person you care for to leave the house more often could make a big difference. And getting outside doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may sometimes seem. From Motability to accessible public transport, there is a great deal of support out there to make it as easy as possible for you to take the person you care for out and about.

If the person you care for is in receipt of certain benefits then they can use some or all of their payments to lease a car or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) to help them get out and about.

To be eligible, they must receive one of the following benefits:

  • Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance (HRMC DLA).
  • Enhanced Rate Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment (ERMC PIP).
  • War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement (WPMS).
  • Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP).

They must also have at least 12 months of their award remaining.

All they have to do is pick the vehicle that would work best for them, at the price they want. The payments are deducted from their benefits and paid directly to Motability to cover the lease of the vehicle. Because Motability buy vehicles in bulk, they are able to negotiate good prices from manufacturers meaning it can be a more affordable option for many people.

To give some peace of mind, they also provide what they call ‘all-inclusive leasing’, meaning they cover everything about the vehicle and its running costs except fuel. This includes servicing, maintenance, repairs due to wear and tear and breakdown cover. They even provide insurance for up to three drivers on the vehicle, so you could also use it to take them out and about too.

A Blue Badge is a parking permit that allows those who are disabled or with mobility issues to park closer to their destination. If this applies to the person you care for, they do not even need to be able to drive in order to make use of one. If you were to drive them somewhere, for instance, you would be able to use their badge so long as they are with you.

The Blue Badge scheme is administered by local councils, with each one having their own slightly different process for applying. You can usually apply online, and some councils also have a paper form that can be used too. The council are allowed to charge you up to a maximum of £10 for a Blue Badge. No-one else can provide you with one so if anyone else offers you this service, it may be a scam.

Certain situations make someone automatically eligible to get a Blue Badge, meaning the process of applying is particularly straightforward. These include:

  • Being registered as blind. (For further information on how to go about registering the person you care for as blind see our guide 'Caring for someone with sight loss')
  • Receiving the Higher Rate Mobility Component of the Disability Living Allowance (HRMC DLA).
  • If they scored 8 points or more in the ‘moving around’ section of their Personal Independence Payments (PIP) assessment or if they scored 10 points in the ‘planning and following journeys’ section and were put in category ‘E’ meaning that their stress, anxiety or other mental health issue stops them leaving the house.
  • Getting the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement (WPMS).
  • Receiving a lump sum payment as part of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, if they have been certified as having a permanent and substantial disability.

Even if none of these particular situations apply, the person you care for could still be eligible for a Blue Badge if they have a long-term problem with walking, have severe problems using both their arms or struggle to go out and about including because of a mental health issue. The process of applying would just take a little longer as it would need to be assessed further. They would need to fill in an extra section on the form explaining why they are eligible. They may also be asked to do a mobility assessment with a health professional, send in additional evidence or speak to someone from the council about their condition.

The process of applying for a Blue Badge can take quite a while. If you have heard nothing after two months, then you should get back in touch with the council. If the person you care for has a terminal illness, the council will usually fast-track the application if you send them a copy of medical form DS1500 which you can get from their doctor.

The Blue Badge will last for three years, after which time it needs to be renewed again using a similar process. If the person you care for’s condition improves and they no longer need the badge, you must return it to the council or they could be fined up to £1,000.

Perhaps the person you care for knows how to drive but has found that their ability to do so safely has been impacted by their condition. This can be particularly problematic if you, as their carer, don’t drive. Perhaps you both relied on them to be the driver, leaving you now cut off from accessing the wider world.

You may then be pleasantly surprised how much can be done to adapt cars and other vehicles to make them easier to drive for people with disabilities. These can be as simple as a small attachment or as complicated as replacing all of the controls in the car with a bespoke system.

One of the most popular options for people with limited leg mobility are hand controls. With these, you can control the speed of the car by pushing and pulling a lever, trigger or ring instead of using foot pedals. Or if the person you care for has a problem with their right leg but better mobility in their left leg, then their car could be fitted with a left foot accelerator instead. Alternatively, they could have their pedals modified for instance by having them extended so that they are easier to reach.

If your friend or relative is more likely to struggle with their hands and finds holding or turning a steering wheel difficult, then they could have a steering wheel ball fitted instead. Alongside this, a control panel can be mounted on the steering wheel to allow them to control other operations remotely, including indicators, windscreen wipers and lights.

Some things to bear in mind include that the car often must be an automatic for these driving adaptations to work, and they can sometimes take quite a lot of getting used to, especially if the person you care for has already been driving for a long time without them.

You can also get car adaptations that help your friend or relative to get out and about in other ways too. For instance, additions such as car boot hoists and roof storage racks allow you to store a wheelchair or electric scooter. Others help you to get someone in and out of the car more easily, including transfer plates, hoists and swivel car seats.

If the person you care for was to get a car through the Motability Scheme (see above) then many of these adaptations would be fitted for free at the start of their lease. Otherwise, there are lots of private installers who can add them to their existing car instead.

By law, all public transport must be accessible for passengers with disabilities so there may be more support available for the person you care for than you think. Some ways that public transport has been made more accessible include:

  • Having dedicated spaces, wide doors and ramps for wheelchairs.
  • Priority seating for people who are less able to stand.
  • Allowing people to bring their guide dog or assistance dog onboard.
  • Having audio-visual information to help those with hearing or sight loss.

Many bus and train companies also have a service called ‘Passenger Assist’ where staff help people to get on and off or let them know if their stop is being approached. What is available can differ quite significantly between providers though, and some services need to be pre-booked 24 hours in advance. It is therefore worth contacting the operator of the services you want to use before you travel to talk to them about any additional support they can give. Many of them also provide this information in different formats, such as large print or Braille, if that is more helpful.

It is also worth knowing what your legal rights are. For instance, if the train the person you care for is booked on isn’t accessible for them (for example if it has been replaced by an older model or with an inaccessible rail replacement bus) then the train company has a legal duty to make sure that they still reach their destination. The company must therefore give them a space on another train or cover the cost of an accessible taxi instead. Or if you get off a train and find that the platform has no step-free access, then station staff have a duty to get you to the next accessible station.

Some services also offer free or discounted travel. Older people and people with disabilities are able to travel for free on any local buses in England between 9.30am and 11pm on weekdays and any time on weekends and bank holidays. Some councils extend this to allow free travel at any time, and some also allow you as their carer to travel with them for free as well. The person you care for can access this by applying online for either an older person's bus pass or for a disabled person's bus pass.

If you use trains regularly, it might be worth buying a Disabled Persons Railcard. For adults, this costs £20 for one year or £54 for three years and gives the person you care for a third off the cost of their rail travel. You would also get a third off of your ticket too if you travel with them as their carer.

If the person you care for is travelling to or from an NHS hospital appointment, then they might also be eligible to claim the cost back through the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme. Or if you need help getting the person you care for to other medical appointments such as the GP, dentist or optician, then you could look into whether your local area has a community transport scheme. These usually offer low-cost or free 'Dial-a-Ride' services giving you transport door-to-door if it’s too difficult to take a normal bus.

For anyone who is lucky enough to have never needed to find an accessible toilet, this can seem like a relatively minor issue. But for some carers, having access to one can be a deal-breaker for whether or not they are able to take their friend or relative out and about.

Recent research found that only one third of the UK’s 13,552 public toilets are accessible, and that there are massive regional variations. In Edinburgh, for example, 67% are wheelchair accessible, whereas in London only 37% are. [2] It is therefore a good idea to find which toilets are accessible in advance if possible. Take a look at The Great British Public Toilet Map to see where the nearest accessible toilets are to the place you are visiting.

You may also want to purchase a RADAR key in advance too. They cost around £5 and are available either from your local authority or online – look for the official N&C Phlexicare key. This will allow you to access one of the 9,000 accessible toilets that are part of the National Key Scheme (NKS), meaning they are locked to the general public and only able to be used by a person with a disability who has a key.

You may find that even toilets that are technically classed as accessible still do not have enough space or the right equipment for your friend or relative to use them. If this is the case for you, look out for what are known as 'Changing Places' toilets. They are much bigger than standard accessible toilets, have a height-adjustable changing bench, a hoist and a screen or curtain to allow the person you are helping to have some privacy.

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Visit our online support section where we have provided advice and guidance on a range of relevant topics to help you in your caring role.

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