10 Things I Want You To Know About Using Public Transport As A Disabled Mum

10 Things I Want You To Know About Using Public Transport As A Disabled Mum

Guest post by Fi Anderson


Mum’s Can Have Invisible Disabilities Too

Many people are aware after a high profile London Tube campaign that there’s now a badge you can wear if you’re disabled and need a seat on the tube, that’ll hopefully take the awkwardness out of asking a stranger to give up their seat and rather have them offer out of kindness. What you may not of thought of is the Mother that just came on with a baby in the pram, might be a disabled parent. That pram might be her lifeline of not just transporting her baby but her mobility aid aswell as there’s simply no way you can push a pram aswell as use a pair of crutches or a walker. The more energy she wastes standing, hanging onto dear life on the tube/bus/train because all the seats are occupied and she doesn’t ‘look’ disabled, the more chance there is of a fall as the driver puts his foot down and races round a corner trying to make up time on his pressurised schedule. The less likely she’ll have any ‘spoons’ (click here if you haven’t read The Spoon Theory) left to make her other children who maybe at school right then a home cooked, nutritious meal. Not all parents with disabilities use mobility aids.


Families Often Have To Split Up On Public Transport If The Disabled Parent Is A Wheelchair User 

One of the hardest things I’ve experienced and continue to experience is the fact if I’m travelling with both my children, 1 school aged with a Visual Impairment and a toddler still using a buggy is the fact bus drivers split us up because some bus companies (First Group for example) only allow 1 buggy OR 1 wheelchair. Not both. Despite the fact even my bulky powerchair doesn’t take up the entire wheelchair space, I have photographic evidence you can squeeze my youngests buggy in front of me sideways. Many drivers won’t bend the rules, meaning a family outting can end up taking 10x longer as me and my partner play follow the leader – bus style. Me with my eldest who can sit on the seat and him waiting to take the next bus with our youngest in the buggy. It can also end in tears as our kids don’t understand why Mummy/Daddy is getting left behind with their sibling. One particular time this happened will never leave my mind as my then 3yr old daughter cried her eyes out as the bus drove away leaving her Daddy and baby sister at the bus stop, she literally thought she was never seeing them again. The other passengers were in outrage as she sobbed in my lap screaming for them. Between the heartbreaking wails the couple nearest us who’d been out shopping at the markets tapped my free shoulder and said, “I’m so sorry you have to be put through this just to go out with your wee family.” I mouthed “It’s OK,” but it’s NOT OK is it?


A Disabled Parent May Not Be Able To Fold Up Their Child’s Buggy To Enable A Wheelchair User To Get On

I feel incredibly guilty that this one didn’t dawn on me until I experienced it myself. I am a disabled parent who’s a wheelchair user and even I, with all my access issues didn’t think about those still ambulant and being asked to collapse their child’s buggy for someone like me to get on.

One time I was attempting to board a bus without my children. There was a mother there using the wheelchair space for her and her newborns large Silver Cross pram. The driver stomped to where she was and demanded she take the baby out the pram, somehow hold the baby in one arm and collapse the large pram with the other because as he jammed down the poor mother’s throat “Should a wheelchair user wish to use this space, buggies must be collapsed or otherwise vacated.” Instead of getting tearful, this Mother defended herself. She told the driver loudly for all passengers to hear that SHE was a disabled Mum and had just as much right to that space as wheelchair user. That there was no physical way with her disability she could collapse her pram. My heart got lodged in my throat and my face burnt with embarrassment hearing all the trauma me wanting to board that particular bus was causing. While she argued with the driver, I was trying to shout to him nevermind! I was not about to watch another disabled parent get booted off the bus with a newborn baby. This Mum didn’t know I was in her world as I didn’t have my kids with me that day which made it even more painful. Needless to say the driver didn’t hear me and the woman got so flustered, she told the driver she’d just get off the bus then as he threatened to call his manager! It got way out of hand. As I went to tell her how incredibly sorry I was, that I didn’t ask him to do that she wheeled her baby past me and shot at me with “There, hope you’re happy you get the space and now I’m stuck out in the freezing cold with my 4 day old baby!” It was brutal and I have never truly forgiven myself even though it wasn’t my fault. I had to go on that bus after all that as the driver wouldn’t here me out on how I thought his behaviour was disgusting towards her and the passengers gave me dirty looks the entire ride.


You Have To Wait Until There’s No Buggies
When you’re a wheelchair using parent and travelling with your child in a buggy, you cannot board a bus with other buggies on as most companies won’t let parents and wheelchair users play tetris amongst themselves and be adults about it. So by policy travelling with my family often means I occupy the wheelchair space AND the buggy bay. Which results in us missing several buses in a row because they’re often occupied, especially if on a hospital route or around rush hour when parents are on the school/nursery run. When my eldest was 6 weeks old and we took her to see my Mum for the 1st time who lives the next town over, we missed 6 buses in a row trying to get back home in freezing conditions. We couldn’t go separately either as I needed assistance from my partner with the icy conditions for safety and baby needed me as she’d feed for nobody else. We had to stay together.


Train Guards/Bus Drivers Never Think My Family Are Mine
It’s only our regular local route drivers that have got used to our unique family dynamic. Otherwise, outside of that zone drivers never think my children are mine, despite seeing me interact with them, carrying one on my lap or talking to my partner. They let me board then tell my partner he cannot with the youngest in the buggy. Which leads to a ‘MUMMY!’ screaming fit by the girls as they anticipate being separated yet again and my partner trying to convince the driver we are a Family and we CAN and HAVE made the buggy fit in front of me or at least wait for my partner to carry baby on to give to me while he is made to fold it up. Some drivers are embarrassed when they realise their mistake and believe us, others shrug and say its policy. There is no policy that protects wheelchair users who are parents with small children on public transport sadly as we are deemed such a minority.


Open To Stranger Interrogation 
It was mainly when my little ones were babies that strangers on public transport thought it was appropriate to open a conversation with such things as; “Is that baby yours?” “Like biologically?” “You’re so inspirational you know, having a child in your state.” Once when I answered an elderly lady that yes my baby was indeed mine biologically she went on to ask me how that could of possibly happened!  To which I answer, “Just like anybody else does,” with a smile as I’m trying to normalise parenting with a disability even when I’m nipping to Morrisons for a bit of shopping.
It’s OK to ask questions but please be respectful! A lot of able-bodied people think it’s rude to ask people about their disability even if they truly want to educate themselves. Most disabled individuals are happy to help normalise disability and expand your knowledge. So please feel free to ask us even on public transport but in a respectful way and maybe open with a “Hi, you off into town today then?” or something first instead of diving right into it. Be mindful that having a disability doesn’t define us and we, like you are going about our daily lives at the time you spring up the courage to ask us your burning questions.


Buggies VS Wheelchairs debate.
I honestly think neither should be deemed priority, it all depends on the situation and the individuals. For example I’m not going to get in a tizz if a Mum with a newborn is in the wheelchair space and demand they get off cos wheelchairs are supposed to be priority. That isn’t morally right in my eyes if I can wait. As a Disabled Parent, like any parent I put baby first. But if there’s a older child or an empty buggy in that wheelchair space and it’s poring down with rain or I’m feeling unwell/bursting for the loo cos there’s no Changing Places around, I will ask if you will fold the buggy so I can get on. I’ve also been on a bus in which the driver didn’t recognise a mobility stroller (a special buggy for a disabled/medically complex child) and whilst I was already on the bus in my powerchair, that driver told the Mum she couldn’t bring her child on because wheelchairs had priority. I immediately told the driver I wanted off and that Mum was to have that space with her child because in any Mothers eyes a child comes first and it pisses me off to no end that drivers/train guards don’t always see a mobility stroller as a wheelchair as they Should! It is not a competition who gets the space, we are all adults and we need to be mindful of each others circumstances and establish fairly and promptly who’s of greater need.


Not All Wheelchair Users Can Use Baby Slings 
I’ve had a number of people recommend I use a baby sling on public transport so we don’t have to take the pram/buggy and miss buses/fight over the space and with drivers and guards. While they mean well, it also comes from lack of awareness of why a person maybe a wheelchair user. Many individuals assume its by some tragic accident (most commonly I was in a car crash and therefore must have full use of my upper body still)! I’ve been in a wheelchair since I was 6yrs old because I have a life-limiting muscle wasting condition. The muscle wasting part also affects my shoulder muscles and makes using a baby sling impossible as I don’t have the ‘padding’ on my shoulders to stop it from digging in and creating sores, plus it makes my arms even heavier so I can do less for myself and baby. Believe me I’ve tried many styles but it’s just not do-able for me with my specific condition. So before offering this advice be mindful that the disabled parent may not be using one for a reason.


If You See Us Struggling Please Offer Help

It’s no secret many disabled people are fiercely independent and struggle to accept help. But if there’s been one time in my life that made me realise that asking/accepting help wasn’t a bad thing, it was when I became a disabled parent. I often struggle to get off a crowded train or bus with my eldest. With her vision issues too, I’ve not only got to navigate my powerchair whilst holding her hand but also make sure she’s not too close to my wheels or about to hit someone with her symbol cane. She’s 5 years old now and I can tell you the ONE time a lady offered to guide her off the bus for me, I was extremely grateful as I like any parent, was getting flustered with people who seemed to just be barging through both of us. We too have places we need to be after all! It doesn’t have to be something as big as this either, it could be picking up a dummy that got launched out the pram on a busy train. Don’t be afraid to offer help for fear of rejection, we aren’t all the same.


Disabled Parents Experience A Whole New Level Of Discrimination Travelling

It maybe of a shock to readers but there is no provision to protect or accommodate disabled parents on any form of public transport. It’s as if transport companies still think we’re in medieval times. Whether it’s that we are not recognised as a family when out and about or policies preventing us to travel as such, to be open to inappropriate stranger questions when going about our life on the daily commute or being seen as such a minority that we aren’t worthy of a policy that protects us. All these are forms of society discriminating against disabled parents.

This is 2018 Britain. Where we pride ourselves in accepting, welcoming and accommodating of you whether your white, black or purple pokadots, whether you’re bi, gay or trans or if you choose a career over kids, foster or adoption but if you’re a parent with a disability you are not entitled to equality by law. That needs to change…

You can follow Fi’s motherhood journey on her blog Life of an Ambitious Turtle  or find her on Facebook // Twitter // Instagram


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