They see me rollin…

… they won’t get out my fucking way

It’s 6:30 on Friday afternoon, I’m stuck on a busy train that smells like a giant armpit and someone is crunching crisps in my ear and dropping crumbs on my shoulder, welcome to commuting. You may have seen some news articles this week about the issues faced by disabled people with priority seat badges not being able to sit down, this is not something new and although the TfL badges are an improvement people have very selective vision when using publigc transport. Of course it’s entirely possible that people with hidden disabilities who don’t want to wear a badge may be using these seats but when every seat at the front of the bus is full or every priority seat on the train is occupied it seems unlikely these all these people have a hidden impairment

It’s not just about priority seats either but the general lack of consideration towards disabled people using public transport and general attitude that we’re a nuisance or in the case of the never ending buggy vs wheelchair debate wanting special treatment and expecting to be treated better than everyone else, people don’t even notice you they don’t look up from their phones or newspapers or even look where they’re going when running for a train. Since I started my new job four weeks ago I’ve been commuting daily, mostly to the office I’m usually based at which is a three minute train ride and a 15 minute walk from home however recently I’ve been working at our other office a bit which is further away plus traveling to my boyfriends every week. Because I’m working at different offices and not always able to use my pc I have a work laptop, like me it’s big and heavy and quite old and because of my disabilities I can’t carry it around easily.

As a reasonable adjustment work bought me a rucksack on wheels so I can wheel around my laptop, notebooks, resources for workshops and any other stuff I need. In the 4 weeks I’ve been using it I’ve had help getting on and off the trains once, the station I get off at rear work doesn’t have a lift so I have to carry it up and down the stairs. People find cases and bags on trains annoying I know it’s bulky but I have no other option unless someone wants to replace my brain, spine and connective tissue so I can carry things while staying upright and not being in pain, today I dropped my stick trying to get up to get off the train it’s metal and wood so makes a loud thud when it falls; some women sitting near me were commenting that the man sitting next to me didn’t pick it up but they were sitting near enough to reach it and didn’t help. I see people with buggies being helped on and off trains or up stairs I’ve even helped in the past but being disabled people get annoyed because I don’t run up and down the stairs or because I need to use the handrail or have mobility aids that take up space.

I know my usual audience aren’t the type of people this post is about and I’m sure plenty of you will be sitting there nodding knowing exactly what I mean so I hope that this post forms some kind of a bond or solidarity with the disabled people who take up space, who use transport, who have to try and navigate an abled world. And if you are a non disabled commenter please offer someone a seat, ask if they need a hand, done be a commuting cockwomble.

Chronically commuting

A picture of me with London Underground roundel face paint

There are temporary toilets at Euston, fascinating I know but this meant walking from one end of the station to the other a minor inconvenience for many but something simple that ate into my already rapidly reducing energy supply.
If my body had a battery symbol it would currently be edging towards red, unfortunately I can’t put myself on low energy mode and I still have to get home. A simple thing like using the toilet or accessing public transport can become a mission when you’re disabled, people who live with chronic health problems and limited energy will talk about the importance of pacing (something I’m pretty bad at I am however an expert at crashing and burning) but along with pacing comes planning. Most people plan a journey especially if it’s somewhere unfamiliar or timing is needed but planning the most accessible journey involves more effort than a journey from A to B.

The standard London transport tube map

I’m not a wheelchair user and I can manage a limited amount of stairs so I’m less restricted than many other disabled people but the London Underground is not disability friendly (I’m not unaware of the age of the system and challenges in making it more accessible) but after working out where I’m going the next step is seeing if there’s a lift and whether that’s for all the station or just parts of it, is there a reduced escalator service (my balance and coordination and using a stick make escalators a challenge), if I get on a train part the way along the line can I get a seat, how far will I have to walk from the mainline to the underground. Often I’m tired before I’ve even started.

The accessible tube map

Energy isn’t just expended physically though, social interaction can be draining, thinking, talking, trying to follow the flow of a conversation can also be tiring especially when you throw in the neurological problems I have as a result of a brain injury at birth which left me with hemiplegia (I seem to have unknowingly won some kind of anti health lottery) all these things can add to fatigue and despite my  love of the city i can’t deny that Londoners are not the most patient people to be crammed on a train with.

People dismiss the idea of FOMO as another trivial millennial, Generation Y non issue but when you’re already several years behind your peers it’s hard to say no and slow down even when you should. Chronic illness, mental health problems, disability often do mean missing out of things or choosing one thing over another and in an age where we can see more and more of what people are doing with their lives without having to spend time with them it’s hard not to feel it.

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