Photo: Joel Mathis
I looked out of the window, surprised at just how pitch black it was. I was hoping to be distracted from my annoyance at my foolishness in getting caught in rush hour traffic on a bus for which I was now a sardine in a tin. Thankfully I had my book, which I am addicted to I might add, and I managed to finish it during a journey that normally would take an hour and fifteen minutes and instead took double the time.
As I was stood among fellow commuters, my back began to ache and I was feeling generally tired from the day. My eyes wandered over the travelers on the bus and I began to wonder how many of the people sitting down would willingly think to give up their seat for somebody else.
As we all know, disabilities, if they’re physical, are easy to spot. If someone has crutches or a wheel chair people naturally move, but I wondered what the reaction would be if I asked the man whose ears had been swallowed deep inside a pair of enormous earphones, if I could sit down because I needed to.
I have never used my disabled bus pass to get a seat just when I feel like it, but, I realized on the occasions that it’s been necessary due to a medical condition, I never felt confident enough to ask. My thought process has been that I would surely need to get my pass at the ready to prove myself because, well, would I be believed? I look perfectly ‘normal’.
So, the question is when is it okay to ask someone for a seat?
My mind returned to just over a year ago when I started losing my sight due to the medication I was trying. I had the scariest experience when I was caught completely off guard downtown. My vision deteriorated till all I could see was a blur of swirling color. If I focused hard enough on things close up, I could maybe get double or triple vision at best. Fortunately, I made it to the bus stop in time despite the increasing vertigo sensations. As I stepped on the bus, guided by the driver, I was mortified to find that close up it was completely full of passengers. Trying to calm down I thought, “No problem, I’ll hold on to the rail as long as I have some security it till be fine”. When I eventually located the rail, there turned out to be four of them, I was seeing quadruple. As the bus began to move, I took a chance on one of the four hoping it would be right. Unfortunately for me, and for the chap whose glasses I almost broke, it wasn’t. I fell into his face and then into his lap, very graceful.
Even after I explained that I couldn’t see and gave my profuse apology, neither he nor the passengers around him who had witnessed this embarrassing incident offered me a seat and of course, I didn’t even think to ask.
I came across this really interesting article written a year ago about the update in signs on the Metro. This reconfirms the point of this blog post and how people instinctively still perceive disability.
Those seats are there for a reason. If one is needed, no matter what health condition, we should have the confidence to ask to use it. I know how difficult it can be and I know more than likely the request won’t be granted without the requirement of some type of explanation as to why. I’ve seen the looks of reluctance from people who have had to move because of a wheelchair, let alone an invisible disability.
So as a reminder to both able bodied and disabled, don’t forget why these policies are put in place. They are for occasions like the one above. I hope many of you are more assertive in these situations than I am, but if not, try to find your strength and put yourself and your safety first!