On wheelchairs and buggies and buses

I don’t normally use this space for talking about disability, but there are sometimes when an issue gets under my skin, and this is one of those times.

You may have read about the case this week where a bus company was taken to court by a wheelchair user. Essentially the case was this: a mother with a buggy refused to move her buggy to let a wheelchair user on. The ruling was to decide whether the bus company was liable to enforce it. The ruling was in favour of the bus company, and said it was not the bus company’s responsibility to enforce parents with buggies to make way for wheelchair users.

When I heard about this, I shared a petition on Facebook calling for people to preserve the rights for wheelchair users over parents with buggies on buses. There then followed a very interesting discussion, largely expressing sympathy for the mother who refused to move her buggy. From this discussion, I have become aware that a large number of parents are reluctant or unwilling to cede their place to a wheelchair user.

What gives a wheelchair user the right to travel on the bus, over that of a parent with a buggy?

First, because these spaces were originally intended as wheelchair spaces, after disabled people chained themselves to buses in protest,and campaigned for the right to travel on buses.

Second, because there is a difference between inconvenience and impossibility: for most people with a buggy, if that space is not available it is inconvenient for them to travel, for most people using a wheelchair, if that space is not available it is impossible for them to travel.

As a parent, you may ask, what is the solution if a wheelchair user comes on the bus, and you have a baby and a buggy you cannot dismantle one-handed?

This is a fair question. My suggestion would be to ask others on the bus for help to collapse the buggy, while you hold your child. It’s very un-British, and a real pain, and embarrassing, because everyone will look at you and tut while you apologise over and over, and thank everyone profusely for their help. It is a tiring and slightly humiliating experience. If you do that though, it will give you a small insight into what it is like to be a disabled wheelchair user: “would you mind pushing me a little to the left? Thank you so much. Would you mind opening that door for me? Thank you. Sorry, I can’t see. Would you mind moving aside a little? Thank you. Would you mind telling me what is on the top shelves of the supermarket? Thank you.”

I was dismayed to see that when another friend on Facebook posted a ‘first trip out on the bus with my baby’ status, a friend of hers shared the article with the bus ruling, with the comment ‘don’t worry, now you don’t have to give up your place to a wheelchair user. No one can make you move.’ Certainly the way this is being reported is “now buggy users and wheelchair users have equal rights.”

What does this mean for wheelchair users? The combination of the media reporting that wheelchair users have no priority over parents with buggies, and now the lack of enforcement of wheelchair priority is a bad combination for disabled rights. I fear that it means that those hard-won wheelchair spaces on buses will not be available for disabled people, because they will be taken by parents with buggies. Taxis are expensive. Disabled people have been the hardest hit by the recent cuts, and are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people.

If you are not prepared to sign the petition, then I would be very grateful if you did the following:
– write to your MP, saying that you would be reluctant to give up your buggy space for a wheelchair user. Perhaps you could suggest that buses have two spaces: one specifically reserved for buggies, and one specifically reserved for wheelchairs. That might clarify things, and preserve the right for wheelchair users to travel on buses.

Thank you.

(You can sign the petition here)


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3 Responses to On wheelchairs and buggies and buses

  1. Gill 14th December, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

    Totally agree, and had signed the petition before I read this. Very good point about ‘inconvenience’ and ‘impossibility’. Also, mums and babies on buses are usually healthy. A wheelchair user isn’t. Come on !


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