Public Transport is not something I use that regularly. However, the National Entitlement Card or as it is more commonly called “The Bus Pass”, gets used frequently when I want to use the bus into Aberdeen or attend what seems, the older I get, to be escalating numbers of medical appointments at the ARI.
Invisible disability can be many things, which affect our ability to live a normal life (whatever that might be) and that can be both physical and mental. Wheelchairs, crutches, Zimmers, and other aids all shout that the user is somehow disabled. When one is slowed down and struggling through constant pain, lack of breath, or other illnesses, or indeed problems caused by an accident, then we always hope that people have some empathy with our situation and hopefully understand why we cannot hurry, or climb stairs the way they want us too.
So I am glad that transport operators face legal action if their services do not meet the needs of disabled and older passengers, to read this report by Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland on prosecuting transport undertakings if they fail to meet standards.
BBC Scotland report today ( 26/09/19) “The move is part of a strategy funded by Scotland’s human rights watchdog to prevent discrimination and ensure equal access to public transport.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission says it “will vigorously defend the rights of disabled and older passengers. It says operators often fail in their legal duty to ensure easy access”.
I became very aware of this robotic inability to empathise or see difficulty earlier this year when I suddenly developed a crack in my shin bone, right down near the ankle. I was eventually slapped in plaster, and suddenly, I could not drive, and more importantly found getting onto certain buses for the increasing amounts of medical appointments equally impossible.
Initially I tried to get to appointments using the Stagecoach No 10 Coach from Inverness. That very well appointed coach has three large steps at the front. That bus goes to ARI, and from there I could catch the frequent shuttlebus to Woodend Orthopaedic. Well, that was the plan, and I had taken care to ensure timing was correct with the appointment.
My first mistake, was assuming the Stagecoach driver would have any empathy for someone with a large leg plaster and using crutches, who was clearly unsteady and a danger to themselves.
The driver, despite having a small fold down chairlift to assist those in wheelchairs up those suddenly mountainous stairs, did not rise from his seat. In a dangerous and ungainly manner, I suddenly had to learn to bench press myself into the bus, whereupon I was thrown along the aisle as the driver resumed the bus’s journey. Nobody on the bus was bothered that an elderly looking man hugging crutches, and trying to support himself, was hopping about on one leg trying to survive the sudden lurching of the bus. I was for that moment, transformed into Victor Meldrew. I know it is pointless raising these matters with bus drivers, they look, they stare and they instantly forget. Complaining to the Bus Company elicits a polite letter that re-training for the individual has been organised. The point is these transport undertakings know they can hide behind platitudes and nice letters.
Getting off the bus was a problem. Try hopping down stairs whilst trying to hold crutches with nobody trying to help. The Shuttlebus was not good – even though it is operated by the hospital. The driver – for safety, medical and insurance reasons – is not allowed to assist passengers on and off the bus. “ Sprauchle” is a Scots Language word, and it describes perfectly how I managed that full journey, that particular day. From the Scots Language Dictionary sprauchle is defined thus:
“To move or make one’s way laboriously or in a hasty, clumsy manner, esp. in an upward direction, to scramble, clamber, flounder about, to struggle to extricate oneself from a restricted position, to sprawl, flail about with the limbs”
On another occasion, having by this time had it forcefully put to me that I was a danger to myself, my fractured leg and probably other unsuspecting transport users, I qualified for Ambulance Transport. Do not think that was an easy decision, or indeed that passing the criteria was easy either.
In time I learned to force my left leg to hop and jump up stairs. Wanting or directing one’s brain to empower a motion or movement of limb is not easy to achieve. Everyday tasks become big decisions as to whether the physical effort is worth it. My hands, shoulders, knees and hips all suffered through this period as I grappled with a Zimmer, crutches and I learned what “confined to the house” and non –weight bearing actually mean.
I am now free of the plaster after 4 months, and thankfully I have healed unexpectedly, and am back driving again.
I wholly agree with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland who have warned Transport Operators of their legal obligation to make transport accessible – and I would aloo add safe to access and use thereafter.