I posted yesterday, and my Facebook page exploded with discussion. One particular issue kept arising, and I wanted to address it here for the sake of those who had thought it, but not commented.
What about the mother who is struggling with an invisible physical infirmity (eg back problems or injury post-birth) who can lift their baby but not at the same time as dealing with a buggy, AND they have depression, and so asking for help with a buggy would push them over the edge into sobbing, and they would just have to leave the bus rather than be able to move? What makes one disability trump another?
This is a good question, and worthy of a good response. I am not saying that depression is not a disability – far from it. But mothers are not the only ones with depression. I guess my question is – what if the wheelchair user who is being refused a space is also struggling with severe mental health problems? Depression often accompanies long-term disability. What if the humiliation of being refused a space tips them over the edge into a severe depression?
I don’t think it is appropriate to make wheelchair spaces available on the basis of whom it would cause least mental distress, not least because I can’t imagine who would be in a position to adjudicate such things. The wheelchair spaces are there as the legal right of wheelchair users.
I can understand the anger and sadness of the parents in this position, however. It is incredibly stressful to travel on a bus with children, juggling shopping, a buggy, and little ones who are crying for your attention, whilst trying to keep noise to a minimum so as to avoid disapproving glances.
Parents who are in this position – I understand your anger, but please direct it towards the able-bodied people on the bus who see your distress and don’t offer to help, not the wheelchair user whose space it legally is.
And this is my plea: Able-bodied bus travellers – please, please be kind.
Please kind to disabled people, including the ones who don’t use a wheelchair, and may not ‘look disabled’ or ‘deserving’ but who ask for your seat because of their invisible illnesses. Choose to believe them when they say they can’t stand for long journeys, and remember how hard it is to ask for things from others. Jump up and tell the blind person where a seat is, and say hi to their guide dog, let them know they are safe and welcome.
Please be kind to parents and their children – look up from the book you are engrossed in, notice them, ask if they need help, and volunteer your seat loudly, encouraging others to do the same, be patient and don’t huff or tut when they take longer to get off the bus, or if they breast-feed their child to soothe their distress. Even better, ask which stop they will be getting off, so you can get up a little bit beforehand and put their buggy up for them before the people on the bus start queuing to get off, blocking the exit.
This is my plea for a little more kindness – to make buses and the world a nice place to be. Thank you for listening.