Friday, May 1, 2009

An Open Letter To People On The Bus (Blogging Against Disablism Day)

Dear people on the bus,

You see the sign that says “Please give up this seat for elderly or disabled passengers”? It's there for a reason. It's there because it's incredibly painful for people like me to stand at all, let alone stand on a bus that's swerving and stopping suddenly. You see me standing there, hanging desperately on to the strap with one hand while my other hand holds my cane to support the weight that my leg refuses to, as well as holding my shopping bags. And yet, you do not give up that seat, I would like to know why.

I understand that I don't fit your idea of what a disabled person looks like, so you might not think I'm really disabled but sometimes people get hurt young. It's true, it happens. To be honest, when I was 20 I might not have thought it either, but at 21 I knew it all too well. While no, it is impossible for you to know my life story and to know why and how I came to be in so much pain, it is clear what my story at the moment is. It's written in the wincing expression on my face, it's told in my grunts and exasperated breathing. How a person can look at another human being and not say to oneself “You know, perhaps he needs this seat more than I do,” I simply cannot grasp.

Perhaps your not getting up is my fault. I admit I don't ask you to. I'm not much of a “squeaky wheel type” and my mother raised me better than to take a seat away from a senior citizen or a woman (chivalry or chauvinism - you decide). Although, she did raise me this way before standing was an endurance challenge. How did your mothers raise you? She had to have taught you to give up your seat to a disabled person. No, that's not fair. It's not her fault or your fault, I'm the one that doesn't ask you to get up. I don't want to be rude. I don't want to impose. I don't want you to think I'm another cripple demanding special treatment. It has to be my fault.

But I don't think so, for I see your faces. You don't think I see them. The way you look absolutely any way but in my direction, the subtle guilt that always confuses me – why if you obviously feel bad about not getting up do you still refuse to do so? I really don't understand this.You clearly know that you're being assholes, and yet you do nothing to remedy the situation. It wouldn't be that difficult to assuage the guilt that is written all over your faces. All you have to do is say “Excuse me, would you like to sit down?” But you don't, you never have. I've been riding the bus for four years and not one has one of you ever asked me that question. And it breaks my heart every time.

The worst times are when I fall. Someone cuts off the bus and the driver stops short or he takes a turn too fast, it happens all the time. And if I'm standing when it happens I fall. And still none of you offer me your seat, usually none of you even offer to help me up. It's then that I lose my faith in humanity. Not even because I'm disabled, but because I'm a person who fell and no one seems to care.

So next time we're on the bus together and it's a bit crowded, if you see you me standing there wincing and wobbling, I would really appreciate it if one of you would let me sit down. It's not going to cause you any discomfort and it's just common courtesy. The upsides for you are you get to go around all day telling people about the "good deed" you did and you won't have to make that shame face.

Crippled Carny

Please take a look at the other, better B.A.D.D. entries here.

Right now my bipolar is Slightly Depressive.

Right now my pain level is 4.


  1. Holy shit, people suck.
    Generally people give up their seats for me, and I am grateful. How they can't see your need is beyond me!

  2. Dear Crippled Carny,
    When something particularly disabled happens to me (like falling over in the street, and needing help to stand up) I often find that looking directly at someone and asking them for help works. Not only does it work, but these people I pick on often look super relieved that this bizarre happening has a solution. Lots of people find it awkward to offer help (maybe they're thinking, 'what if it offends', or 'how do I say...', or just 'eh? freak') and maybe that's why they're so shiftily avoiding your gaze.
    Although, as stitchedbitch says, there are certainly a good number of people in this world that just plain suck.
    So far, I've had the good luck to meet many more people happy to help than people that suck.

  3. This is a difficult one - I mean, at least there is some visible aspect to your disability - sometimes it might be a person with another invisible disability sitting in that seat! I too find it difficult to stand on buses and always feel guilty for not offering my seat to people who look obviously in need, but there are 30 or so other ppl on the bus who also could offer... And thus everyone expects another person to stand and no one does anything.

  4. Wow, the people are so rude! I hardly ever have that problem, when I get on a crowded bus leaning in my cane and looking around in a searching way, someone almost always gets up for me. I've had to ask once in the few months since I've had the cane (and I take the bus quite a bit). I found that just generally asking a group of sitting people "Does anyone here not need their seat?" more comfortable, because I wasn't risking asking anyone invisibly disabled. The people looked at each other a few second, and one of them got up, though he didn't look too happy about it. Anyway, I really feel for you.

  5. Thank you everyone for the kind words. My wife (who has absolutely no problem asking people to get up for me, she really is an amazing advocate and I plan to do a post about that soon) agrees with Deborah that everyone just probably expects someone else to do it. Maybe next time I'll take the initiative and ask for myself.

  6. I do think that sometimes people are afraid of doing something that would offend a disabled person ("If I offer my seat, will he think I'm saying he can't stand?"), but the err on the wrong side by keeping silent. I'd much rather someone asked me so that I could accept or decline politely, rather than make the decision for me. (But I'm just as bad at asking as you appear to be, so I also get that part).

  7. Open, honest, true - and very moving.

    I see it all the time, not just on the bus but also in other situations also.

    Whatever the situation, everyone else look guiltily relieved when it's me doing the offering. Mind you, I have absolutely no problem with asking. If the person is offended, then I usually say "That's OK, I'm getting off soon anyway". Usually this approach works - even when they know full well I'm not getting off soon!

    Mostly though, I get a heartfelt "Thank you", a chance to make a new acquantance (some have become friends) and good old natter.

    Thanks for posting.

  8. why if you obviously feel bad about not getting up do you still refuse to do so? Because I'm not psychic.

    If you're hanging around looking pathetic but not obviously disabled, and I'm tired and I've had a long day, and you can't bring yourself to say anything to me, how am I supposed to know that you need the seat more than I do? For that matter, how do I know that offering you my seat wouldn't offend you horribly? I feel bad because you're looking pathetic, but I don't know what to do about it.

    Just ask. You don't have to go into detail; just say, "My [back/legs/whatever] is/are bothering me today; would you mind terribly giving me your seat?" I'm a healthy, middle-aged woman; of course I'm going to give my seat up to someone who needs it more than I do. But don't expect me to read your mind, because I can't do that.

  9. "If you're hanging around looking pathetic but not obviously disabled, and I'm tired and I've had a long day, and you can't bring yourself to say anything to me, how am I supposed to know that you need the seat more than I do?"

    The thing is though, I am obviously disabled. I walk on a cane, it's that shiny metal mobility aid in my hand. If you see someone using a cane and the hangstrap and still struggling to stay upright, all the while wincing in pain, there's a good chance they'd appreciate the offer.

    And that's to say nothing of the days when I'm using my wheelchair and I have to argue with people to get them to move out of the seats that flip up to become the wheelchair bay. So it's not even really a matter of my asking or not, it's perhaps more a matter of people just not wanting to suffer the slightest inconvenience.

  10. If you're a tired able bodied person- drag your butt towards the back of the bus.

    It's like saying that I'm too tired to walk all the way into the store - so I'll just park here in the handicapped spot. ( Some still do but they run the risk of a $300 ticket)

    I've been on both sides of this situation and i'd like to think I gave up my seat when needed, either by choice, or when the bus driver yelled and jarred me out what ever zone i was visiting.

    The biggest offenders to my mind are the mothers who come on board and feel the need to sit in the first row, while also taking up the right hand side seats by flipping them up so they can park their strollers in the wheels chair space.

  11. As someone who is looks still young enough (50 actually) to be healthy and likes to try to have a cheery attitude, having to stand on the bus is my worst fear. No matter how well I feel when I get on, by the time I get to my stop, my pain level has gone up 2 to 3 levels.

    I will stay home when possible over having to go out and catch a bus. My partner who broke his leg just below the knee and tore his ACL, takes the bus to work everyday and only now is seeing why I only hate to ride it.

    Even when you are offer a seat by someone, there are the rude people who feel they can take up extra space so you're pushed to the edge of the seat. I'm not as think as I used to be, but still slender enough to not take up a lot of space. Sitting on the hard seats over bumps and post holes and the constant starts and stops a bus makes, is painful enough, without people feeling that you must part their legs far enough to take some of my seat too. The worst offender was Saturday, who when I moved across the isle to so to sit comfortabley, sat up for the person who took the seat after me. I hate to think my boyfriend is right that the difference was that made them be more considerate to the next person is that I'm guilty of being a well dress white person. (Though the dress was a thrift store find and the shoes from a yard sale.)

    I didn't say anything to them, though I did to the person who took the seat. I have to deal with enough mentally ill people at the day program, to know not to talk to someone who radiates anger. Normally I can break down barriers that seem to divide people and make friends on the bus. Once people realize I'm on SSI and can't work, my skin color isn't a big thing.

    I have fibromyalgia, deep chronic depression and language processing disorder/dyslexia and use a cane to keep from falling over and give me a few extra block to walk before the pain develops in my hips.

    I've been in a flare for the last 2 weeks and thankful that my pain is down from 9 to 5 at the moment. I self prescribe myself a cane and now waiting to hear if I will be approve for a manual wheelchair. The doctor I did see on the 5th up the amount of Ultram I take to 100mg. It barely helps take the edge off, but I'm not going to let the depression and pain have control of my life.

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  13. I wrote something that is in part a continuation from my comment above, and in part a massive diversion off-topic:
    Asking for Help.


  14. I don't understand it either. This past year, I took the bus to and from school. It amazes me how people just seem so oblivious to anyone else's needs. I don't understand how careless people really are. It bothers me a lot.

  15. Thanks very much to everyone who helped to spread the word and to everyone posting about disability discrimination today. About 200 people have contributed some excellent work, making this by far the biggest BADD ever .also get some medication just like Generic Cialis with this medication

  16. My father dug up your blog for me today after hearing about me photographing people sitting happily ensconced in seats that say "these seats reserved for the elderly and disabled," attempting to ignore the chick with the cane and the walking cast - me - STANDING feet away from them. .

    The first set were on the SF BART, and it took 22 minutes for the train to clear out enough for me to get a seat. Every seat was taken, and everyone was ignoring me.

    The second set were on the Vancouver Canada Line skytrain (I was traveling, so to go with the cane and cast went a big suitcase). In the latter, the train was filled with airport employees. Two twits pointedly looked at my foot and plopped down in the seat I'd been aiming for... their friend made a comment and they giggled and turned so they could pretend they didn't see me.

    I snapped a lovely photo of them in the seat, under the reserved sign, wearing their airport staff T-shirts. I'll be forwarding that photo to airport management.

    (I finally got a seat in Vancouver when, on a bumpy spot, my suitcase went flying. I could hold the cane, the suitcase or the bar, and with only two hands... At that point, one of the only non-employees on the train noticed me - someone had been standing between us - and stood up and offered me his seat, with one of the Transport Canada airport screeners carrying my suitcase over to that seat. FINALLY, nice people!)