Sunday, 11 September 2016

Please Don't Offer Me a Seat

Badge that reads please offer me a seat

I should start by saying that I think this is fabulous. Simple ideas often are.

As reported by the BBC, Transport for London is trialling a new badge for customers who need a seat on the tube or bus because they have an 'invisible' disability or impairment that other people can't immediately see.

Great. Perfect. Should have done this years ago. I love it.

That said... I do have one problem with it. It may shock you, so brace yourself.

As you may already know, I have multiple sclerosis (MS), first diagnosed when I was 19 (this is not the shocking part). While lots of people with MS are going to love the new badge, it's actually the case that many of us don't want a seat on the tube (that's the shocking part!). Some of us have symptoms that you can't see by looking at us and, confusingly, these symptoms can mean we prefer to stand!!

How confusing is that?!

So what's that all about? Well, like many people with MS, I don't have trouble standing up per se. However, I do have trouble with vertigo. This has nothing to do with heights. It's a condition that makes me feel a bit dizzy, especially when I move from sitting to standing (ever stood up suddenly when you've been drinking and felt a bit unsteady? Well it's like that).

So when I'm on the tube or on a bus it's far better for my comfort and safety and the safety of those around me if I stand - as long as I can hold onto a handrail.

Why am I even mentioning this?

When people see me on the tube they see a middle aged woman who they think probably wants a seat. So they offer me one and I politely decline. A seat doesn't help me, you see. It makes things worse. What I need to to be able to do is stand and hold onto a vertical handrail.

Unfortunately, most people don't know about people like me and don't handle a public rejection too well. I've had people swear and shout at me when I've gently declined a seat that I didn't ask for or need.

So these lovely new badges aren't of much help to me. But if I wore a badge that read 'Please DON'T offer me a seat' people would think I was ridiculing people who wear the other badge! You see what a minefield of political correctness living with an invisible disability can be!

A tube train interior
The handrail is my friend

Please allow me to hold the handrail

What people like me need is a badge that reads 'Please allow me to hold the handrail'. You would all understand that, wouldn't you?

One of my bugbears when travelling on the tube or bus is when people lean against the vertical handrail (such people are usually immersed in a book), preventing me from getting a grip on it. If that's you, please stop it.

Crowded tube
No way.
I've learned that the best way to avoid problems is by avoiding busy trains. This sometimes means I arrive late for meetings, of course. I've also learned to stand with my legs apart and knees softly bent to help me to balance more easily. I've learned to work around everyone else, basically. This is what most people who live with invisible symptoms do.

It seems like these badges are going to help people who need to sit on public transport and this pleases me greatly. Next stop, please help people who need to stand and hold the rail!

Disabled people and people with long term conditions vary. We need different things for different reasons. Above all else, we need people to listen to us when we tell you what we need, and please don't be offended if we decline the help you offer because it's not quite right for us.

p.s. If TfL is reading this can my badge be green please?  ;-)

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