Following on from our recent post ‘Travelling on public transport – the new way!’, as some people start to commute again to work, we thought it might be a good time to highlight these two social media posts written before lockdown, you know, back in the days when the trains were packed! Although it seems hard to imagine it now, I’m sure we will return to this at some point (there have certainly been some advantages to lockdown)!!
Prior to lockdown, a tweet was published by Amit Patel, regarding how he felt when no-one moved in order for him to sit down on a busy commuter train. Amit is blind and travels with a guide dog Kiki. The tweet, written as if by Kiki and on a wet, rainy day stated ‘Dad had to stand with his back against the doors whilst trying not to slip & I was sliding all over the place as the floor was wet. Have some humanity people!’ The post was met by many expressing their sympathy for Amit and calling the behaviour by his fellow commuters appalling.
Dave and I (Vicky) discussed this and were surprised that no-one stood for them as this isn’t what we have experienced. In the past when travelling with Dave and other blind people, inevitably one or more people offer their seats. However, when I thought about this, they often offer their seat via me ‘Do you need a seat?’ ‘Are you alright there?’ (both said to me but looking at Dave) or ‘Would he like to sit down?’ (but giving eye contact to me). I always then refer this question to Dave or the vision impaired person I’m travelling with. Why do people ask me? I’m not sure that it’s the same as the infamous ‘Does he take sugar in his tea?’ (although we’ve plenty of examples of the equivalent of these). I think it’s more likely that on a busy train, they can catch my eye to ask me whereas they can’t necessarily do that with the person with a vision impairment and, on a packed train, wouldn’t necessarily be able to reach the blind person to let them know they were directing the question at them. We did wonder if, in this instance, people couldn’t attract Amit’s attention, or just simply didn’t know how to. Sometimes, people send the message via others, for the person nearest the blind person to touch them to ask, but this takes quite a lot of joint effort and so sometimes breaks down en route. We also wondered how obvious it was that Amit was blind – on a busy train, could those sitting down see Kiki at all?
There is the unlikely scenario that those around him all also needed their seats and there simply wasn’t enough room on the busy train to accommodate everyone. And then there is of course, the other, less appealing option that maybe they were all just in a world of their own and not considering the needs of others around them.
Sadly, a tweet from RNIB would seem to reflect this as statistics from the department of transport showed that 1 in 4 disabled people say negative attitudes from other passengers prevent them from using public transport.
However, having read and discussed Amit’s tweet, Dave and I then read this post by Holly Scott-Gardner which was in response to Amit’s original tweet. This put another perspective on it all - https://www.facebook.com/holly.scottgardner/posts/2578515379103900
Holly (who is blind herself) writes
“I get it. Standing on a busy train when you have a dog with you can be difficult. But we have a responsibility as adults to speak up and ask for what we need, rather than expecting everyone around us to know automatically. We also have to recognise that when a resource, like seats on a train, is limited we may not be the only ones who need to use it.
We can't blame the public for every single thing, whilst also expecting them to treat us like adults. At what point do we start taking personal responsibility?
I'm sure the guy in this article is a perfectly nice person, but when you run to the papers, or shout on Twitter, every time you don't get a seat on the train you start to lose credibility. The sad thing is he actually has a lot of support.
Hear me out. It's great that people support him and want the best for him. But a lot of people are there for the outrage. They want to yell about how disgusting it is that a blind person is having to stand on the train because in their mind, of course a blind person should be sitting down. But when disabled people are working hard to change things like accessibility of the built environment suddenly those defenders of blind people go silent. Why? Because by demanding equal access, rather than "special treatment", we're forcing them to confront their views on disability.
It's an interesting take isn’t it.
Again Dave and I discussed this. Dave rarely accepts a seat when its offered to him as he prefers to stand. He knows where he is then in relation to the door, making it easier for getting off the train. When he did have Errol, his large guide dog, he found it easier to stand with him than try and wedge him into the seated area. But he also chooses, wherever possible, not to travel in busy commuter periods.
I still think that it’s polite to offer a seat to anyone who you think might need it more than you (and that’s regardless of whether you are in a seat labelled for as a priority seat). So that might be someone older than you, pregnant, parent carrying a small child, someone with a disability or impairment or just someone who looks like their day’s gone worse than yours! And I have witnessed this happening loads on trains.
However, in the same breath, we all need to respect that it may not be obvious who needs a seat and who doesn’t. And that we may offer a seat to someone who could be offended by that offer.
My view there is that we can only do our best. As a non-disabled woman who’s just turned 50, with greying hair, I’ve decided not to be offended if someone offers me a seat – there will come a day when I am very grateful for it 😊 (smiley face).
The Everyone’s journey campaign, lead by the Department of Transport is asking people to be mindful of their fellow passengers, and make transport more inclusive.
Twitter: @transportgovuk, #ItsEveryonesJourney
What do you all think?
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Please share these by commenting…
Interested to learn more about VIDA Training? Read about our Training and Consultancy packages, specialising in Vision Impairment and Disability Awareness, Communication and Team Building or contact us for further information.
Our VIDA Insights...
Following our experiences from delivering our Vision Impairment Awareness training days over the past couple of years, we know that there’s loads more that we could talk about and examples we could have shared. Whilst these won’t be a substitute for our training, they will give you an insight (hence the name!) into our thoughts, observations and experiences from each of our perspectives - Dave’s living with sight loss and Vicky’s from being a sighted person and working alongside and supporting people who have sight loss.