“Please offer me a seat”

avril-coelho-conference

As a disabled commuter who is unable to drive for medical reasons, I rely as thousands of other people to on public transport to get to the shops, to  get to work and back and to get to medical appointments.

Whilst I have a disabled person’s freedom pass, drivers don’t always notice that I need a priority seat. Certainly as my disabilities are hidden, other passengers don’t see my epilepsy or the three worn vertebrae in my spine. I need to sit where it’s not too hard to get up again and where the driver can see if I do have a seizure. I know that should I have a seizure, bus drivers have a protocol to follow.

I have been on a busy Tube and not offered a seat despite talking about my need for one with another standing passenger who was two weeks away from giving birth. Her need was obvious to anyone with sight but nobody got up. We were stood next to many seated men with briefcases and mobile phones in their hands who might have all needed their seats but it’s unlikely. A seat came up and I offered the lady the seat as her and her unborn baby needed it. The heat became unbearable and triggered a seizure and without anyone giving up a seat within the ten seconds I had to sit down, I fell down on the Tube floor. Only then did the men seated get up. Not to offer me their seats though! They picked me and my bag up and carried me of the Gunnersbury platform bench and left me alone there! My bag could have been stolen before the seizure ended.

Unfortunately, this kind of selfish inconsiderate behaviour is far more common than the polite etiquette of offering a priority seat or other seat.

There have been many times returning on a crowded bus from work where I’ve showed my freedom pass to other commuters because when I’ve asked for a seat, they’ve replied saying “we’re all disabled these days”, “off course you need it!” and “you look fit to me love!”.

A couple of years ago I had enough of this and contacted Caroline Pidgeon as she was, and is, our Greater London Assembly member on a transport committee. I suggested an idea of a ‘Please offer me a seat’ badge and pass perhaps to be given out with disabled person’s freedom passes or by GPs. I don’t recall the response but understand that others have also raised their concerns from the same perspective.

Recently Caroline re-tweeted the new London Mayor and Transport for London advising about a blue badge “please offer me a seat” trial that they were due to launch. I looked into it and applied in time. As I’d wanted this for so long, I decided to ask my local party (Twickenham & Richmond) if we could put an amendment in for the Future Transport motion this Autumn conference. I explained why it’s important and how it could and should be trialled nationally and how many more people might benefit from it. It was written up, put forward and accepted.

I hadn’t spoken before at conference despite previously submitting a card.

I had encouragement and support from friends, the Campaign for Gender Balance and Liberal Democrat Women in training sessions that I highly recommend.

Unfortunately, I was unexpectedly called and the sudden shock triggered a seizure immediately before I spoke.

I would like to thank conference for patiently waiting a minute and a half for me to be able to stand up again and get my speech back albeit slurred and thank the chair Zoe O’Connell for asking conference to bear with me.

It truly demonstrated how accepting, understanding and tolerant, the Liberal Democrats are!

Having just had my short term memory frazzled, some of what I had learned over the weekend wasn’t put to the good use it should have been. I had used my note card as a tissue before being passed a handkerchief and it wasn’t in the best state to refer to.

I had to recall what I wanted to say and pick out some legible words I’d written glancing at the card I’d ruined. I remembered some of what I wanted to say and thought it was enough to get my message across. Luckily conference voted with me after another speaker and an amazing summation from Caroline Pidgeon!

Here’s what I said..

Good afternoon conference! My name is Avril from Twickenham and it’s my first time speaking at conference so please bear with me!

As a person with hidden disabilities, I’m taking part in Transport for

London’s “please offer me a seat” blue badge trial over the next three weeks.

I understand the frustration that people with hidden disabilities face, not only in my area but no doubt across the country and there should be at least 500,000 others like myself who get looks and are unable or unconfident to ask for a seat to sit down when they need it because they get looked back at by people who don’t believe that they genuinely need a seat.

Having a blue badge would enable people with hidden disabilities to have the confidence to ask for a priority seat. It would also prevent drivers from asking disabled people to get up and give their seat up!

So I support the amendment to the transport motion and if you get the

opportunity to vote for it, I urge you to support the motion as well and the amendment!

I know that the baby on board badge has been a success. There’s a member here at conference who used it when she was pregnant and found it very helpful and effective. Due to regional variations on public transport across the country; it’s only right that a trial takes place in every county around the country so that issues can be discovered and dealt with.

So please conference, support this motion and the amendment, thank you!

Do please push for this in your area.

* Avril Coelho is a member in Richmond and Twickenham

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9 Comments

  • Avril Coelho, There is nothing new about such manners…In the 1980s my wife commuted to London…She was full of stories about such ‘bad manners’…It wasn’t the young; it was those in their 30s and 40s (our generation)…
    She also said that it was impossible to embarrass these men…When she gave her seat to a heavily pregnant woman who had a young child in tow, her loud remark of “I see the age of chivalry is dead” only resulted in a rustling of newspapers….

    The ‘manners’ that were taken for granted, in my youth, seem to have disappeared sadly aided by a ‘feminist’ few who view the offer of a seat as an insult…I have been told to ‘mind my own business’ by one such woman…Perhaps some of those who view you as ‘able-bodied’ may be afraid of the same treatment

  • Avril
    I think the “please offer a seat” badges are vital, the topic of seats is a minefield for most people:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10027724/Diana-Rigg-is-right.-Offering-a-seat-to-a-woman-is-dangerous.html
    I have heard many stories of people getting a rough ride for trying to do the right thing. People trying to give up seats to someone they think is pregnant, and then are told in no uncertain terms is not…
    There is the added complication of people not seeing badges such as the “baby on board” badges, along with everyone having their heads buried in books and phones.
    The badge at least will make offering a seat a little safer for those who notice it (and are inclined).

  • Im probably one of these commuters on occasion. Ive given up my seat and other times Ive looked up and realised I or someone else should have done. In my defence some of the commuter routes are unbelievably overcrowded and most of my journeys are fairly unpleasant and some extremely cramped. In the evenings in particular the trains are often so full its not possible to join them. Cattle wouldnt be transported this way. It seems dangerous for fully able bodied adults on occasions, when people are carrying or accompanying children it can seem dangerous. Noone in authority is doing anything to alleviate the overcrowding. Not adding services. Not removing 1st class. Not penalising operators when they skip stations or cancel services. It is basically a hostile environment and it isnt getting any better. The badge is a good idea. I once offered my seat to someone who replied “do I look pregnant?”. But ultimately politicians need to add more capacity. Incentivise companies to relocate out of the capital or allow more teleworking. The badges are merely a sticking plaster.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Sep '16 - 7:17pm

    It is good manners for anyone to offer up a seat to someone who is clearly in greater need than oneself. As a fit woman in my seventies that includes people like me, and I often offer up my seat on crowded London transport to someone clearly in greater need whatever their gender, just as younger people of both sexes often offer theirs up to me.

    It is good manners for the person receiving the offer to do so and either accept or decline politely.

    A badge would be helpful so that those with a problem that is not obvious can signal their need and good manners can prevail.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Sep '16 - 7:35pm

    Avril

    Your article is heartfelt and intelligent. I am chivalrous , and gallant , actually ,many of us are, yes , I like the words, and others , such as, ladies and gentlemen , as much as women and men , and see neither or any of these , as anything of a stereotype, rather an extension of good manners. We, as human beings , or nearly all, have various aspects to us , some worth encouraging ,or exploring, some not.Most of us are kind enough to know the difference, between those of us who are, kind, and the few who are not! Colleagues above show their awareness of this. And kindness must be shown in ,for example, public transport , and public policy in general, as well as by the general public!

    We live in confusing times of mixed messages. Postings like yours are timeless and a reminder of humanity at its best, in your advocacy for improved behaviour, and its more thoughtless too , exemplified in the actions or inaction, described in your piece.

    Alas, some while back, when Jo Swinson was pregnant , she , as a result of a comment she made ,then the media making much of it all ,made men feel they were old fashioned and sexist if they offered a seat to a pregnant woman , in the Commons she was left standing and made out that was fine . To many of us it would have appeared not so, but decent men know when to keep back , if being helpful, to women, or indeed, men in need , causes a row !

    The great British actress , Dame Diana Rigg , both charismatic ,and idiosyncratic , who I have met ,and like , has more than once , courted controversy in the past , when speaking of such situations, criticising what she sees as, in her opinion, a kind of feminism ,she is not a supporter of , or even a modernism, she believes, increases bad manners, so what if men hold the door open to women , she says , good manners is usually all that is, she feels!

    Equality , and the rightful need for it, should not mean we are unable to talk of vulnerability, and the woeful ignoring of it. In my view, whatever anyone says , women, pregnant or not ,disabled or not , are sometimes more vulnerable in public, whether due to physicality and boorishness, or criminality and meanness, there are sometimes issues to be considered. Ignorance as well as violence are our enemies. Therefore vigilance , and consideration by all , men and women, is not patronising ,it is civilised human behaviour !

  • Simon Freeman 28th Sep '16 - 6:53am

    On our Supertrams and busses in Sheffield there are seats designated as priority ones for people with restricted mobility. I always avoid these if I can and if I have to sit in one at busy times stand if someone who needs it more than me gets on. Do they have these in other areas.

    It’s a bit of old fashioned politeness and consideration for other people we need.

    As an aside I do find it a problem where people insist on standing when there are empty seats. They just get in the way. Also when people insist on sitting in aisle seats but leave window seats free-and don’t move up until other people get on-and often not until asked-or even if you say excuse me. Also people putting bags on seats and not moving them.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Sep '16 - 11:49am

    Good speech. Also pushchairs on buses.

  • I think the mobile phones, laptops and personal music systems are a factor. People are much less aware of their surroundings. Nowadays it’s quite rare for me to be on public transport where there are people standing (and when I am, it’s a train with the standing concentrated in the non-seating area between the doors, not along the aisle), but on the positive side I can tell a story from the London Underground about twenty-five years ago. I’d had bursitis, which gave me, temporarily, a pronounced limp. The carriage I’d got on in East London was full except for a seat or two in the middle. I sat there. Somewhere (Mile End?) I had to change trains. The train stopped. The doors opened. As I limped my way towards the doors (OK, I should have been better prepared), people flooded in. They saw me limping and the flood went into reverse. I wanted to thank them all and apologise!

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