Monday, December 19, 2011

I hate public transit

When I was able-bodied, I was a big fan of public transit. I enjoyed how unique every bus route was, how you can "hop on, hop off" any time you want, how it saves you money and the hassle of driving, and especially the atmosphere on board if it's the same group of people who take the same route every day.

But since I started using a wheelchair, things changed.

There is a reason why I started this blog.

Many able-bodied people may find this shocking (or not, depending on who you are) but I believe that public transit has the most discriminatory atmosphere towards people with disabilities.

People with disabilities face a LOT of crap on public transit, moreso than anywhere else I have seen. Most of that crap is not something that can be controlled by the bus driver or transit agency because it often comes from other passengers.

Here's a small sample of what happens on a regular basis for me (approximately once or twice every ten days) on public transit:
  • When boarding a bus, a passenger will say audibly, "Great, a wheelchair on my bus." Some will shake their heads at me instead. I'm not blind or deaf...
  • While waiting for an elevator at a SkyTrain station, one person will express their displeasure at having to share it with a wheelchair user. Some of those people will physically cut in front to prevent it.
  • For some odd reason, when I board a SkyTrain, some people are not happy about it. I have seen people swear under their breaths at the sight of me. Strangely, getting off never causes an issue.
  • People hate giving up their priority seats on the bus, even for those who do not need it. Just ask this athletic guy. I could understand if they were elderly or have disabilities as well, but young and muscular athletic-looking people?
  • Wheelchair users are often the scapegoat if the bus is late. This is true even if you boarded at the very first stop, during a layover WELL BEFORE it was about to leave. I have heard people who get upset at the bus being late saying, "It's because of the wheelchair" to their fellow passengers before – MANY times.
  • Threats. For a variety of reasons: "making" someone late, or having to "make" someone move from a priority seat, or completely random reasons.
Bear in mind not all of these are guaranteed to happen, but at least one of them will likely happen during the next ten days.

Some may see this as "whining" but I do not particularly care because in society, every time someone with a disability points out a problem like this, they are immediately labeled as "whiners" – so it is nothing new.

But reading the above incidents (which occur regularly), don't you think I have a right to whine? There is no other group on public transit that receives the brunt of this abuse more than people with disabilities – not people with baby strollers, not people with bikes, not elderly people, not kids.

Unfortunately able-bodied people do not understand that and sometimes I fear they never will.

When I write something that upsets people, it is very predictable. There will be two groups: one that is very upset, and one that is in agreement. The former is often the able-bodied transit fans online and the latter is often people with disabilities or disability allies. And this pattern comes up EVERY TIME.

Quite often, someone from the disability community will tell me that it's hopeless to try to "educate" the able-bodied people (who I upset) about disability issues because they simply "will never get it."

I don't believe that. That is why this blog even exists. There needs to be a better understanding and awareness of people with disabilities on public transit, who seem to have a target on their backs simply because they chose the bus, SkyTrain, or SeaBus as their mode of transportation.

This may sound paranoid but think about what kind of situations I listed above. Right now there is very little understanding and quite a lot of hostility – and many the able-bodied people who are part of that do not even know that they are doing it. It is not always their fault but when they refuse to listen or learn more about what goes on, it effectively becomes a social barrier to inclusion.

This post will also upset a lot of people (as I expected with my previous post). I will be called a "whiner." I will likely be sworn at through e-mail (which is on the right, by the way, for the people with legitimate questions). Many people will unfollow me on Twitter. Some will block me.

But this is the cold hard truth. And the truth is never easy to take.

1 comment:

  1. I can't stand stroller moms. Two rude women boarded the bus where I live a stop apart. Both had those SUV sized strollers. Sat in the disabled/elderly spots, blocking the entire aisle so no one could board or depart. I had to have my mom, who has health problems come to the back of the bus to get off which was not an easy feat because she has trouble with stairs.

    I wish we could look down on women who think its okay to bring strollers on board and then don't even have the decency to at least fold them.

    I don't know why people are more tolerant of them than those in wheelchairs because the woman with the giant stroller is intentionally inconveniencing everyone and has little respect for anyone around her.