Travel Ableism

Image of a sign with the words please lower the bus written on it in black letters.

Today we hear from our London Ambassador Tina on how she is feeling using the public bus transport again since the start of the pandemic.

Since I’ve emerged from nearly one and a half years of shielding, one of the things that has been most difficult to deal with, and which is now impacting on my emotional well-being as it is really getting me down is what I’d call Travel Ableism, public transport workers or other passengers not being considerate and supportive towards disabled passengers. It’s the almost daily inaccessibility I experience as a passenger on public transport in London, or more accurate, buses as they are the only form of transport I’ve used since March 2020.

Things came to a head for me on Tuesday 31st August when I was travelling home from work by bus. It was the end of the day and I was feeling really fatigued. It’s quite painful for me when I walk with my crutch generally so in the evening, I take two buses to get me home. The second bus I only take for one stop, but this lets me conserve some of my energy and enables me to make dinner and wash up. I was one of the last people to get on the bus, the first priority seats were occupied so I made my way to the seats beyond the middle doors. As is typical 99.9% of the time, the bus driver drove off without waiting for the passengers to be seated. I was walking past the middle doors and when the bus moved, I stumbled. I reached out to grab the handrail and a kind passenger next to me grabbed my elbow to steady me. Another passenger assisted and between us I was able to sit down. I felt very shaky after this, and I noticed my right arm was hurting.

It's just over a week since the incident happened and I still have a pain in my arm, it really reduced the amount of housework I could do over the weekend and I’m still using my prescribed pain relief medication for my sore arm. The pain is all the way from the knuckles right the way up to my shoulder but is particularly bad at my joints. If the bus driver had waited until I was seated, I wouldn’t be in this discomfort now. I say this not to sue the bus company, but to raise awareness about how many transport staff are not being empathetic to the access needs of disabled passengers. Just because there is no malice or intent, their actions can still potentially cause disabled people harm and injury. Plus given that many of our community already experience pain, fatigue and discomfort, we try very hard not to put ourselves in situations that exacerbate our existing conditions. However, I’m reliant on public transport and as a disabled person I should be able to access this safely just like non-disabled passengers.

Since my return to work virtually every journey I find myself having to ask the driver to kneel the bus. One day a driver watched me struggle to get onto the bus. When I got on, I said that it would be helpful if he lowered the bus for disabled passengers. While I spoke to him, he avoided eye contact and was studying his nails. I repeated what I said and his response was “did you ask for the bus to be lowered?”

Also, on daily occasions the driver parks too far from the kerb. I’m then put in a difficult predicament; do I say something so that the driver will have to move the bus nearer to the kerb or do I take a chance and just over reach myself and possibly cause damage and fatigue to my body? Often the very time I need the most help is when I’m at my lowest energy and highest pain, and to ask is exhausting.

In the last two weeks, I was unable to board a bus and I asked the driver if they could lower the bus. They tried and it didn’t work. I was feeling at the point of crying by then as I felt everyone was staring at me wondering what my problem was that I wasn’t getting on the bus and delaying everyone’s journey. In the end I asked the driver if she could lower the ramp and I got on in the middle doors as the thought of having to wait for another bus, because the one I was trying to get on was unable to meet my access needs was upsetting. The weekend just gone, I let a couple of buses go by as I just couldn’t face having to ask the drivers to move the bus nearer to the kerb.

Last month I had an appointment at the cancer hospital and the bus opposite the hospital stopped in the middle of the road, as there was already a bus parked up at the bus stop. I called over to the driver to park nearer the pavement. He heard me and I thought he was going to do that and he just closed the doors and drove off.

If you’re a fellow passenger, and you can, please leave the priority seats for disabled passengers or offer your seat. Offering me, a seat really does make the world of difference to my day, it means my pain and fatigue levels will be lowered and I won’t be spending the entire journey stressed that I might fall every time the bus stops or goes round a corner.

I’m reliant on public transport to get me about for work, medical appointments, etc, and I dread using public transport now. Bus drivers know that they are expected to pull in as near to the kerb as possible, lower their bus and wait until passengers are seated. So why are so many bus drivers ignoring some of their duties and potentially putting disabled people at risk of possible harm by their inconsiderate actions. I’m totally exhausted by this, this is chipping away at my confidence every day, it feels like a battle to access public transport. Travel ableism has significant consequences for the physical and emotional wellbeing of disabled passengers, it is demoting us to second class citizens. If you work or use public transport, please think about how you personally can be a better ally to disabled people. Thank you.

It's been great to hear from some of our Ambassador Tina, thank you. This is part of our Voices of Covid blog series, where disabled people share their stories and raise awareness of topics that are important to them. Please contact us if you would like to take part or find out more.

Tags: Voices of COVID


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