We’ve been discussing disability a lot here at MP! and you’ve got Penny Joelson’s new book, ‘I Have No Secrets’ to thank for that.
‘I Have No Secrets’ focuses on a 14-year-old with severe cerebral palsy. It’s a condition that can affect a person’s movement and communication, and the incredible novel has encouraged us to reach out to other young-people who are disabled and ask them to share their story in a guest post.
Ali’s the latest guest writer to pen a piece for the site and her post will make you feel ashamed of the way you’ve complained about public transport in the past.
Why? Well, Ali has Fibromyalgia. It’s a condition that causes severe pain all over the body, but because Ali’s disability isn’t visible she often feels awkward asking for ‘priority’ seating on the bus or train.
Here’s her story.
Disabled seating on a train…
My heart jumps into my mouth as I walk into Brighton station and realise that I’ve completely overlooked the fact that it’s the day of the marathon – the station is packed. My legs turn from the long, strong Amazonian-like limbs that they felt like five minutes ago in my heels and denim mini skirt, to strands of cooked spaghetti. As anxiety fills my body, I can feel my Fibromyalgia starting to flare: my ankles quiver, my knees shake, and I suddenly feel so weak.
I’ve come so far from the housebound seventeen-year-old that I was six years ago, but my Fibromyalgia still lurks in the background of my day-to-day life, threatening me with flare ups at the times that I desperately need to be well.
Thankfully, I managed to find a kind guard at Brighton station who grabbed hold of my arm and escorted me through the crowd and onto a train… But there’s so many times when I haven’t been so lucky.
I spend a lot of my life on trains, and even spent a year commuting from Guildford to London, but I still struggle with plucking up the courage to ask someone to move out of the ‘priority seats’ designed for those in need. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever asked someone for one of the seats. I haven’t even asked someone who is been standing in front of one of the pull-down seats to move over so I could sit there! I just accept defeat and sit down on the floor of the carriage…
Thankfully, train operators are realising how difficult it can be to ask for one of the priority seats and are rolling out ‘Priority Seat Cards’, and Transport for London have created ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges and cards too. But, this is only a small step forward.
A few years ago, when I was using a walking stick, I got on a tube in London – busy enough that there were no available seats, but not so busy that I was hidden by a crowd of people. It amazed me how engrossing everything suddenly became for the passengers in the seats closest to me: some opened newspapers and raised them to cover their faces, others decided this was the perfect moment to take a nap, some even attempted to look out of the window! Well over 15 people in my immediate vicinity ignored me, until a man at the far end of the carriage practically had to shout to offer me his seat! I’ve always made excuses for people, as my illness is often invisible to the untrained eye, but I can’t believe that people can so easily turn a blind eye to visibly disabled, elderly or pregnant individuals just so they can hold onto their seat.
Maybe it’s the ‘bystander effect’ taking hold of us during these situations – research has shown that this psycho-socio phenomenon means that the likelihood that any one person will help another in an emergency diminishes as the number of other people present increases. There is a diffusion of responsibility, stemming from the belief that it doesn’t matter if we don’t help because someone else will.
Priority seating is a great idea, and so are the cards to prove your need for them, but having to get a doctor’s letter to prove you’re in need of a seat is just crazy! So, next time you’re on a crowded train, take a quick look around you and see whether there’s anyone who may need your seat. Be the person that helps, rather than waiting for someone else to do it – it really will be appreciated!
You can follow Ali on the following sites:
To find out more about ‘I Have No Secret’s by Penny Joelson snap up a copy by clicking here.