Thursday, 19 July 2012

Public Transport and Hemiplegia.

Public transport seems a terribly dull subject to write a blog post on, however, as a person with a physical disability it is a bit of a big deal, so bear with me. Now, a couple of months back Channel 4 launched the 'No Go Britain' campaign with the aim of highlighting how difficult public transport can be for people with disabilities. Now a lot of this campaign focused on how wheelchair users were very often subjected to discriminatory behaviour. It's scary how seemingly ignorant our society can be at times. Today I want to highlight my own battles I've faced whilst using public transport. Just to give a perspective from someone who is on the milder end of the physical disability spectrum, if you will. The issue of public transport for me is more complex than at first it appears. 

I rely a lot on public transport as I'm yet to pluck up the courage to learn to drive. I find that buses present the biggest issue for me. Put simply, I don't think hemiplegia and buses are a great combination. My hemiplegia means that my balance is very poor and I'm unsteady on my feet. Therefore, I feel it is safer for me to sit right at the front at the seats allocated for elderly people and people with disabilities. However, I don't use any walking aids and unless I had my splint on you would not notice I had a disability when sitting down. This isn't as great as it first appears. I quite often feel awkward sitting there because if the bus is busy and there are elderly people getting on I can feel people glaring at me for not being polite and giving up my seat. Believe me, if I could, I would. So I just kind of sit there and stare at the floor. If I was asked to give up this seat, I would simply reply that I'm disabled and so it is not possible. 

I also have to sit at the front for the safety of the other passengers. My hemiplegia means that I can't control the movement of my left arm, and due to the spasticity my arm is constantly bent. I find that if I sit further back, my left arm will often knock people as due to my balance issues as well I find it difficult to walk down the aisle. This is really embarrassing when this happens as it's not as if you can stop ans explain to every passenger you knock that it's because of hemiplegia. Another issue with buses which makes me really cross is the impatient bus drivers. It is seemingly unacceptable to press the bell and remain seated until your stop. The bus drivers will  not wait for you. So I have to risk a fall and get up early or risk missing my stop. No matter how many times I do this, it always provokes anxiety. It can be really difficult to remain upright when trying to walk whilst the bus is moving. Plus the fact I'm one-handed means that I can't hold on for support and I'm also trying my best to not knock someone out with my left arm. This is why I sit at the front of the bus! 

I hear you say, why don't you just get a taxi? well, taxis are expensive! I typically only use taxis if I'm travelling at rush hours. I find it's not worth the hassle of the bus during rush hour. I'd never get a seat and I'm not confident in asking someone for their seat. I also use taxis if I have bags to carry because bus travelling here is physically impossible. I  use taxis if I find the place I'm going to is a long walk from the bus route. Taxis are my favourite way to travel as it eliminates the politics of bus travelling and the stresses of worrying if I'm going to fall. 

Now onto trains. I use trains quite a bit from travelling to and from Shropshire and Liverpool. Due to my visual perception issues I would never be able to go somewhere unfamiliar alone on the train, as I would get lost. This took me a long time to accept, however I'm lucky to have an amazingly supportive boyfriend and family who will accompany me on journeys to unfamiliar territory. In general the visual perception difficulties mean that going to new places means a trial run there and back a couple of times to get my bearings.  I find that due to only having one functioning hand, I do have to limit what I carry on train journeys. Although, you can't go wrong with a backpack. This meant that in my undergraduate days, my Dad used to have to make a 100 mile round trip to pick me up with my stuff during Christmas and Easter holidays as I couldn't carry things onto the train. Like buses, I also avoid trains during rush hours. Purely because I get panicky in crowds as I feel vulnerable like I'm going to get knocked over or something. If I'm carrying bags I find it impossible to use the escalators. The ones at Liverpool Lime St are massive so I really have to concentrate using these. Luckily, I find Merseyrail staff ever so helpful and they have asked me a number of times if I would like assistance. I'm always grateful, and never offended when people offer help if they notice my disability, as at the end of the day, kindness makes the world a better place.

I think that's all the issues I've encountered whilst using public transport. I think it's made me want to learn to drive! But yeah, I guess I wanted to highlight how something as simple and everyday as public transport can present a wealth of issues if you do have a disability. It can be anxiety-provoking at times. I guess it's more the fear of what may happen, such as a nasty fall, or if I hurt someone accidentally by toppling on  them. Also it's also my own insecurities such as not feeling I'm disabled enough to sit at the allocated disability seats, and the fear that people are judging me.  (the universal sign for a disability, is a wheelchair user, so go figure) 

Anyway, I think I've rambled on for long enough about this subject,

Feedback and comments about my experiences or your experiences as a disabled passenger are welcomed of course!

I promise I'll blog on something more interesting next time!



  1. Learn to drive!! Its the best thing I have ever done, serioously. I don't use my left arm and leg at all, its great. I use my right hand for the handbreak and auto gear stick, and have a steering ball, and its so good. I still like to get advise from people as my spacial awareness isn't great, meaning that my parking is terrible, but I just park away from other cars! It means I don't have to worry about people on buses or balance at all :)

  2. I've just found your blog and I totally agree with this post. My hemiplegia is very mild but like you I try and sit in the disabled seats and people look at me funny. I also find it really stressful getting off the bus, because other people don't realise I'm slower and find it more awkward to walk down a moving bus so it causes a lot of anxiety!