As a disabled passenger on public transport, with a hidden disability, it’s interesting to note the number of “funny looks” you get. It makes me uncomfortable when I consider where the highest number of this looks come from.
On my daily commute I am regularly confronted by fellow passengers staring at me; with faces expressing confusion, disbelief, anger or just looking perplexed.
If you’re reading this and are disabled, pregnant, or not, you may recognise what I’m talking about.
Gulp here goes…
As someone who firmly believes in, and practices, equality of all forms, it makes me feel uneasy to consider this, that there is a kind of reversed gender inequality at play. You may be aware of which section of our fellow travellers are the most obvious perpetrators. Sadly, yes, it’s the so-called gentler sex.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that ranks peoples acceptability when being offered a seat or asking for a Priority seat. Those who are;
- Children <– When did this happen?
- Visibly Disabled Women
- Non-Visibly Disabled Women
- Visibly Disabled Men
- Non-Visibly Disabled Men
The list above may be a subjective list, but having spoken with others about their experiences, including that of a pregnant colleague, the list marries closely to their experience too.
It’s almost like a class system. Individuals higher up the echelons believe they deserve a seat more than those below. Hence when someone “gets above their station” they sneer, tut or just not ignore you.
I believe that some of the reasons for this are a remnant of ‘old school’ gender conditioning that people are unconsciously displaying. Why is it that a perfectly healthy woman behaves in a way that suggests they think they need a seat more than a disabled man?
Like it or not, as a society we still condition our children along gender normative lines. It’s polite for a man to open a door for women or give up his seat, isn’t it?. Yes, it is. I worry that has traditionally lead us all to a mindset where we are far more willing to offer our seat to a female passenger, and hence we see more female faces sat down on a train.
Thats easy for you to say
But nothing in life is ever so clear-cut, nothing is ever that straightforward, the idea that its a remnant of a less equal world might hold true if it were just man thing. It’s not, trust me, it happens to men and women of all ages.
Another part of the problem is simple, its visibility. Not the visibility, not of the disability, but that we are not visible because the passengers that are seated have their heads pointing directly at there phones, tablets and books. Some use this to deliberately avoid seeing us or are just too obsessed with their phones to bother.
Papa can you see me?
Adding to this confusing set of issues is that many train services operate trains where the configuration has the priority seats with their back toward the train’s door. Hence, as people don’t naturally turn around every time the train stopped, they will not see people in more need of their seat.
Sorry, I didn’t see you
I’m under no illusion that there are myriad of other factors involved too, and that things are not likely to change, especially for those with an invisible disability. I just hope that over time our fellow commuters and train companies learn from listening to our shared experiences, look a changing the seating arrangement, remind people to be kind, and to be observant.
A big thank you to those that offer a seat.
I only hope that those people that offer their seat understand how grateful we are, even on a bad day, when we may be grumpy and snap at them.