Some people argue that wheelchair users expecting pushchair users to vacate the wheelchair space are expecting special treatment, not equality, and being unreasonable. They advocate “first come first served” as fair.
The answer is that yes, we are expecting special treatment, and we’re not ashamed of that. We need special treatment to have any chance at accessing things which non-disabled people take for granted. This is because the built environment, services and society isn’t set up with our access needs in mind. That’s why Parliament has made it a legal requirement that all service providers make reasonable adjustments. For all other “protected characteristics” (age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and so on) – the Equality Act “just” imposes the obligation not to discriminate. It only requires service providers to proactively do stuff for disabled people. This is to recognise the extra barriers that disabled people face on a day-to-day basis.
One of those adaptations is the wheelchair space on buses. NB: it’s a wheelchair space. It’s not an “everything” space; it’s not a “wheelchair, buggy and luggage” space, it’s not a “first come first served” space, it’s a wheelchair space. This is entirely clear throughout legislation and has never been in dispute at any point in “my” legal case or any other.
It’s designed around wheelchairs, for wheelchair safety (as far as I know pushchair safety on buses has never been assessed, nor crash-tests of buggies or an approved design of buggy spaces, unlike for wheelchairs), wheelchair users’ ease of use and for wheelchair user’s comfort. It has to have signs in it saying it’s for wheelchair users. Passengers and their effects (buggies, luggage) are legally required to move from the wheelchair space if a disabled person needs it, unless there are extenuating circumstances (e.g. somebody giving birth on a bus) They are obliged to move under criminal law. Drivers are obliged to allow wheelchair users on, also under criminal law.
There is no law requiring drivers or bus companies to allow a person with a buggy on to a bus, or to allow them to occupy any space on the bus whatsoever.
Our QC put it well in Court:
“The case has in some parts being identified as being about competition between the rights of wheelchair uses, and travelers with children and buggies. But we say that is not the right way to view it.
“We do not suggest that parents traveling with buggies don’t have the need for assistance or to be taken into account.
“We do not suggest that bus companies shouldn’t consider about the general public as it is.
“What we say … is that we have a particular problem – Wheelchair users, Mr. Paulley in particular – and we have been given a particular solution. And we do object to the solution to other problems being grafted on in some way that undermines the strength of the solution which we say Parliament has given” (us.)
(video on Supreme Court website, about 7min 30s in)
The County Court Judge put it more starkly:
Although such a policy might inconvenience a mother with a buggy that, I am afraid, is a consequence of the protection which Parliament has chosen to give to disabled wheelchair users and not to non-disabled mothers with buggies.
(County Court judge as quoted in the Court of Appeal judgment)
So, people with buggies, I’m afraid it is not your space. It was wrong of bus companies to advertise buses as “buggy friendly” where there’s only a wheelchair space and no buggy space. It is doubly wrong of them to put buggy signs in wheelchair spaces. And whilst we’re generally happy to lend the space to others when we’re not using it, us disabled people (well, most of us anyway) object when you selfishly occupy the wheelchair space and refuse to return it to us when we need it.
Happily most parents and guardians agree with us – as shown by Mumsnet – but there are a lot more pushchair users than wheelchair users…
If you (non-disabled people with buggies) want a space on buses, perhaps learn from us. This is how we got ours:
It took about 30 years for us to achieve ubiquitous wheelchair spaces on buses. Good luck with your campaign. We fully support you – after all, we want everybody to be able to travel, including parents with buggies (after all, many disabled people are parents!) and as easily and comfortably as possible.
But in the meantime, don’t discriminate against us by using the wheelchair space when we need it.
Image after Craig Froehle