WHY campaign 14: WHY is boarding a bus in a wheelchair an extreme sport?

“I’ll catch a bus and I’m there” – but it’s almost never that easy. Especially if you bring your own chair or are a stroller driver.

you catch a bus. You check the timetable, buy your ticket, go to the bus stop and hop on. If there’s a seat, you sit down, if not, you stand. Sometimes you’ll stand on my spot, which is fine if I don’t need it. You signal, you get off. On a crowded bus, of course, it’s all a bit more difficult.

I figure out where I want to go. I have to look for a stop I can get to with my wheelchair. I check the website/app to see when there’s an accessible bus on that line and hope that there really is one. Not always.

Oops: even when I ask the service provider in advance to send me an accessible bus at such-and-such a time, mistakes can happen: despite all the phone calls, e-mails and confirmations, the right vehicle does not arrive. Then all my plans fail. 

But now there is a good bus stop, the right kind of a bus just arrived, we are ready to go! The bus driver gets out, pushes down the ramp for me, helps me roll up if I need it. I maneuver myself to my place, put on the brakes, buckle myself in or the bus driver will help me. Ramp up, driver behind the wheel. When I get off, same thing in reverse. 

Nice plan, except there’s the ’oops’ factor: 

Oops! The bus is full and you’re in my spot. Then, if possible, the other passengers should move over. If not, or if the number of wheelchairs on that bus is already full, I’m stuck while others can still get on – and squeeze into my designated place as third. 
This can become an extreme adventure in the heat, rain and cold, because my body works differently! 

Oops! The bus driver is not well informed and refuses to let me on because he says my electric wheelchair is a scooter and you are not allowed to get on with a scooter. They might be not aware of my limitations and causing physical injury because they don’t know that I can’t feel, move my legs or hands or have difficulty moving them. 

Oops! My fellow passenger is not paying attention and they cause me injury or damage to my wheelchair. The wheelchair that allows me to get around. Which is not easy or cheap to fix. When was the last time you got stuck between four walls because someone stepped on your foot? 

There are many standing places and seats on a bus, but spots for wheelchairs, if any, are limited to one, rarely two. I can’t move back or in, stand and hold on, while for able-bodied people it’s much easier and it’s easier to move suitcases, trolleys, saplings from the place reserved for me than to put me on the hat rack! 

Much the same applies to prams, the pram is also the safe seat for the small passenger, with its own brakes and seat belt, and staff who, although get on easier, sometimes they need help too! 

Then there are the walker users (a kind of rolling walking frame, with brakes, seat, sometimes a basket), who can’t suddenly put the walker in their pockets or travel standing up and holding on to the handrails. Sometimes they also strap themselves into the wheelchair spot if they have no better option. 

We, wheelies: wheelchair users, walker users, pram drivers, ask you to take care when we come along and help us to get on and off the bus as easily, safely and quickly as possible, to take our seats – so that there are no more “oops”-es!

Written by Hilda Kerekes

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