Jul 302015
 

Laurence Clark reckons that wheelchair users travel 4th class on Britain’s railways, somewhere below the catering trolley. I think I experienced this today.

I was traveling from York to London by Grand Central. I generally rate Grand Central, an open access operator providing a niche York to London non-stop service, also providing the Mackems with a link to civilisation in London 🙂 (actually, I suspect it may be the other way round!) Even if they have been bought by soul sapping über-giant Arriva.

Today was different, though. I dutifully bought my tickets and booked wheelchair space and assistance with them 48 hours in advance, as we are sadly forced to do, and duly turned up the requisite 30 minutes early to allow general pfaf time.

An excellent, solicitous young gentleman from VTEC set up the ramp onto the train a few minutes before it was due to board, but I discovered he’d set it up at the wrong door – which was not his fault because Grand Central had neglected to employ the RVAR mandated and widely used space hopper sign indicating the correct door for the wheelchair space.

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Never mind, it’s a few minutes early, so still time to discover that there was a pushchair with baby and two suitcases in the wheelchair space. On I get, and it’s left to me to shout to get them moved – even though there was a sign stating the space was for a wheelchair, and even though I’d booked the space. The mother was noticeably sniffy and unpleasant at having to move.

Of course, I couldn’t even get to the wheelchair space, because passengers had left another buggy and two suitcases in the vestibule so I couldn’t pass, leaving me in the doorway area. Nobody arrived to claim these, even though I shouted down the carriage. I was tempted to offload them and call the police as unattended luggage, but in the end I sat in the doorway and refused to move to allow the train doors to shut until they were shifted.

Now I’m a firm believer in public transport and in it being available to all, and I know it’s difficult for parents with buggies. I’m up for adaptations for buggy users, and I don’t mind wheelchair spaces being used by buggy users, when they aren’t required for wheelchair users. But it’s the only space I can travel in! I booked the space. It wouldn’t be considered acceptable for somebody to leave their buggy on reserved chairs, so why is it OK in the wheelchair space? And when politely asked to move, why should I be subject to sniffy pissed-offness from the mother concerned, and exasperation from the guard for daring to refuse to move until I could get into the carriage?

Yeah, the guard. I’d booked the space, and I’d booked assistance. She knew I’d be getting on. So, the question arises, why did she not ask the woman to move her buggy BEFORE I got on? Being proactive would have made me feel a bit less like an inconvenient afterthought, reduced inter-passenger tension and been generally helpful. But maybe I’m asking too much. Et tu, Grand Central?

So I continue my journey as an afterthought, hemmed into the space by pushchairs and luggage blocking the aisle, when ten minutes before arriving into London, I decided to go to the loo before braving the Underground in my wheelchair. It was engaged, so I waited, and my trusty carer (the wonderful Mike) asked the buggy owners to move their charges so I could physically get to the toilet.

Then the upsetting incident happened. I’d coped with everything up to now, the shabby treatment, the huffiness, the accusing looks for daring to want to use the wheelchair space, but it was four tiny whispered words, so quiet I thought I had misheard, but then repeated. They emanated from a businessman in the seat opposite, who had been troubled to move his luggage out of the wheelchair space. These four, tiny, innocuous words?

Why don’t you wait?

That’s all it took to finally get to me, the idea that I should wait till I got off before going to the loo, that I was being unreasonable by wanting people to shift their buggies so I could get from the wheelchair space to the wheelchair accessible toilet on the train, to avoid having to navigate and find one on the station.

Mike was marvelous. I sat there in hurt silence, unable to cope with this small-minded berk shoving his nose in to a situation that didn’t involve him with his snidey sotto vice unhelpful comment; he asked what the problem was, and that all I wanted was to use the loo like 200 other train passengers. (He also got in an excellent jibe afterwards, by telling the guy that the loo was free when I’d left. Lol.)

I wonder: if Grand Central had treated me like a human being by e.g. affixing the wheelchair sign by the exterior door, ensuring the wheelchair space was free for me and keeping the entrance clear, would this guy have kept his trap shut? I wonder…

It’s amazing how it’s not the sign, the space or the corridor that got me (I’m used to those), it was those four whispered, snidey, demeaning words that brought home just how much of an unreasonable inconvenience I was perceived as. It’s these four seemingly innocuous words that will ring in my brain:

Why don’t you wait?

  6 Responses to ““Why don’t you wait?””

  1. As someone who is classed as disabled, but not registered disabled (or receiving benefits), I always have something like this, from friends, colleagues & even family. I have EDS Hypermobility, meaning my whole body dislocates (think Riggs from Lethal Weapon 2), & yes I do mean my whole body. I have worked in the same manual labour job for 11yrs+, & no matter how I’m feeling, I’m very rarely late, have had no sick days relating to my condition.

    I always get dirty looks when I use the disabled seating on buses, even being told to move by a snooty old woman who could walk better than me, then go sat somewhere else in a huff.

    • Yes, I’m aware of the assumptions that people with invisible impairment experience from members of the public, I try to avoid any assumptions myself but probably fall sometimes. Those seemingly petty little gibes are horrible aren’t they, they have such a massive impact.

  2. Before I got ill, I used to love travelling by train. I would love to take a train journey as I miss it. However I just really would not feel confident doing so in a wheelchair. As you keep showing, there is the facilites there for disabled people but we are only able to use them if we are lucky to get there first. I have sat outside many a disabled toilet with my legs crossed (well as best they will cross) waiting for a mother who won’t take their child into the woman’s toilet to finish.

  3. Doug, I totally understand your point and you put it so eloquently. Sometimes it’s the sly snidey remarks that sum up the real feelings behind some people’s actions. It’s the ‘I can’t be bothered’ attitude that is also so annoying. I pray for the day when there is no prejudice and random acts of kindness are everywhere (and people who make those sort of comments are shat on from a great height!) . Keep up your marvellous way of being….

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