Living with Muscular Dystrophy means I’ve been a wheelchair user since early childhood and only now is our family able to explore the option of obtaining a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV). In the meantime, like many other disabled people who don’t drive, we utilize public transport everywhere we go and that includes with our young children.
Wheelchair vs buggies
You may have heard about the fight over who is more entitled to the dedicated ‘wheelchair space’ on buses after campaigners bus companies to court after being denied access to the space which was (at the time) occupied by a child in a buggy. While the war of wheelchairs vs buggies exploded on social media, wheelchair users fighting their corner and parents with young children who use buggies fought theirs, it seems nobody stopped to think about disabled parents.
Policies and Pandemonium
When we venture out as a family, my powered wheelchair and my youngest daughters’ buggy, we can only board at the driver’s discretion and if no other buggy or wheelchair is already on, which as you can imagine limits us greatly, especially during peak time. It doesn’t help that different bus companies have different rules, for example on one bus service, drivers tell us that it is one wheelchair OR one buggy, never both. So, if we needed to board one of their buses to get to an appointment on time it’d mean going in convoy. I’d go ahead with my eldest daughter and my partner would catch the next bus and meet us there with our youngest in the buggy. Having to make a rash decision to separate our family to continue a journey is not only inconvenient, it causes our children great distress because they simply don’t understand why we’re suddenly forced apart. There have been times passengers on the bus have shaken their head in shock as they see my youngest crying out for her Mummy, watching a big bus take her sister and I away from them. Other local buses mostly have a buggy AND wheelchair space, so we don’t get separated as much, however, sometimes both spaces can be occupied by 2 or more large prams or buggies. Our world record of how many buses we’ve had to miss in a row stands at 6, waiting for a bus that would allow both me as a wheelchair user and my youngest to get on in her buggy.
Of course, there have been kind-hearted drivers along the way who ignore the rules and see that we should be able to travel as a family unit, letting us play Tetris in the wheelchair space. I do this by tucking my feet back a bit on my footrest and there’s just enough space for the buggy to fit between the seats and my feet. However, the flip side is we’ve waited in horrendous weather and missed several buses. The kids have been hungry and tired, for us to be stood there begging an ignorant driver who DID have the space to let us play Tetris for them not even realize the children next to me were mine. There’s been two occasions in my 7 years of Motherhood where we’ve had to ring for help from a relative to come collect the children in their car and mind them while we carried on battling to get home after being left stranded in snow or stormy weather by drivers who refuse to bend the rules or other parents who too, don’t realize these are MY children and we too are trying to get where we need to be.
What can you do to help?
The only way to improve the situation parents like myself face when using buses is to spread awareness. Next time you are sat on a bus, I challenge you to simply think about those around you. Anyone of your fellow passengers could have a disability or chronic illness, as too could any parent you see. Disability can strike anybody at any time in their lives, it doesn’t matter your ethnicity, sexuality, religion or class. Some people become disabled after they have children by a terrible accident or sudden illness, some like me may be disabled from birth and never let that dictate their dreams of becoming a parent. One day it could be you.
There is no policy to protect the rights of disabled parents on public transport. Until there is, we are 100% relying on human decency to treat us with the kindness you’d wish society would treat you, if you were in our shoes. If you see a disabled parent struggling to access a bus, speak up and help where you can.