I feel like I’ve written this blog before so please forgive me for the déjà vu feeling you may experience. But I make absolutely no apology for repeating my point and indeed, the point I’m making is supported by an article in The Guardian last week – about how difficult it is to travel, around London or indeed anywhere, if you have a disability.
As a wheelchair user, I pretty much totally rely on public transport to get around and have done so for almost 20 years now. Although the law now requires the provision of disabled spaces and ramps to assist with access, this is often futile as my biggest barrier to using public transport isn’t the physical barriers but the attitudinal barriers of both drivers and my fellow passengers. Last week, I was taking my little boy out for a treat on the last day of the holidays. Let me tell you before I continue that travelling in a wheelchair is difficult enough; add to it a very excited little lad and my anxiety levels go through the roof. I have to be so aware of everything and wish I had eyes in the back of my head.
So as we got on the bus, I realised there was a mother, with a pushchair and two children in the wheelchair space. She refused to make eye contact with me and made absolutely no effort to move, even though the bus was relatively quiet. She just sat there whilst I struggled to position my chair in the space which is designed for pushchairs! The driver chose to ignore the situation, no doubt more concerned about keeping his bus on schedule than making sure I was both comfortable and safe for the journey.
Now, had I been alone, I would have politely asked the mother to swap places with me, as I’ve had to do countless times before. But as I said, my main concern was little man and ensuring he was sat down before the bus moved, especially as the driver had already demonstrated his total disinterest.
Needless to say, I was fuming. Particularly as I complained about a similar incident very recently and received an apology. I’m afraid those apologies mean even less each time an incident like this occurs. As I got off the bus, I told the driver he was responsible for clearing that space for wheelchair users but his face told me that he couldn’t care less.
I know that complaining is pointless – even if the driver does get a ticking off, fundamentally things aren’t changing because the law is not demanding it. In 2017, a disability activist, Doug Paulley, took a bus company to court over their refusal to allow him on to a bus because there was a pushchair in the disabled space and the mother refused to move. Mr Paulley was awarded damages of £5,500 but it was a small victory. The case failed to make it a legal requirement that bus drivers should remove non-wheelchair users from the space – simply stating that “they should do more then simply request that they move.”
Some drivers won’t even make this request so what bloody hope is there? Are disabled people so low down the priority list that people aren’t even willing to try? To try to make our lives that much easier? I was on one bus in a similar position and the driver refused to carry on with the journey until I was correctly positioned in the wheelchair space. Why aren’t more drivers encouraged to do whatever possible to ensure wheelchair users can travel just as efficiently as everyone else? Why the hell are our lives perceived to be less important?
I would love all bus drivers to be required to spend just one day travelling around their city in a wheelchair – maybe that would finally help to change attitudes! In the meantime, I’m working on ideas for a campaign to help raise awareness, if you’d like to help please Contact Flyinglady.