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My wheelchair was supposed to give me freedom, but inaccessible transport means I am still restricted. 

Picture the scene. You’re on a bus. You’ve got your headphones on and you’re in your own little world, enjoying the trip. The bus slows and pulls up to a bus stop where a wheelchair user is waiting to board. How do you feel? 

If you’re me, your heart drops.

Because I’m already sitting, in my wheelchair, occupying the only spot that a wheelchair user can use, and I know that they are going to get denied access to the bus because I’m already there. The guilt is horrific.

This happened to me recently on a bus route where the services are once every two hours. The flash of intense guilt as we made eye contact was an utter gut punch.

Thankfully, because my chair can fold and I had someone with me to assist, I was able to transfer to a seat, fold my chair, and get my fellow wheelie on the bus. 

The other wheelchair user was so grateful and so thankful. He was on his way to a hospital appointment. If I couldn’t have made room for him, he would have missed vital treatment. 

Not being able to get on a bus is more than an inconvenience, it has real-world impacts.

I’ve been the other wheelchair user, watching a bus leave without me on it whilst I’m left figuring out what I’m going to do, how I’m going to make it to my destination on time.

It’s the reason why if I can possibly make it on my own wheels I will, even if it takes me longer or is less comfortable. 

But as a non-driver, I often have no choice but to get a bus. I almost always get the bus before the one I really need, so if I can’t get on the first time, I’ve got a second crack at it.

If I can’t do that, I turn up ridiculously early to be at the front of the queue, ready to claim the space.

It’s easy in these situations to begin to blame your wheelchair. “If I wasn’t a wheelchair user, I could have got on that bus” is a thought that violently intrudes into my headspace.

But then I remember: if I wasn’t a wheelchair user, I wouldn’t even make it to this bus stop to be denied access to this bus. And that’s where the frustration lies.

My wheelchair was supposed to give me freedom but inaccessible transport means I am *still* restricted. 

I would be lying if I said my wheelchair hasn’t given me the ability to do things and go places I previously couldn’t. My wonderful wheels, who I affectionately refer to as Lottie, have opened up a world for me that had previously been shrinking seemingly by the day. 

But it could still be so much more if the accessibility of the transport that non-disabled people took for granted was given more than the bare minimum. 

My choice of university was restricted to one because a frequent commute via train with an unreliable assistance system was not feasible. 

My ability to access healthcare is restricted by the timetable of the aforementioned two hourly bus services.

It’s not made better by the fact I’ve been treated so horrifically by staff at the nearest train station to the hospital my specialist is based that I can’t go there alone anymore. 

I made so many incredible friends during the pandemic that I’d love to meet in person but I cannot face taking a train due to traumatic experiences trying to access rail assistance, and the alternatives, such as coaches are not reliably accessible. 

My ability to begin to build a career in my chosen field of heritage spaces, museums, and archives feels in jeopardy because right now travel is too much of a battle for me to face, so I can’t visit these sites and build up my knowledge and passion to take forward into a career in this space. 

Every area of my life is hampered by the fact that travel using public transport is a frustratingly inaccessible and often traumatic experience. 

And sadly it’s a situation that I don’t see changing soon. The UK government have promised better access to public transport in their 2021 National Disability Strategy. 

Not only was the strategy deemed unlawful in 2022 by the High Court for its failure to properly consult disabled people, but so far the Department for Levelling Up has failed to announce any measures to begin to tackle the systemic inequality we face within transport. 

It’s 2023. There are approximately one million wheelchair users in the UK. Buses having one space, that we’re also (incorrectly) expected to share with other groups, is absolutely ludicrous. 

Two wheelchair users wanting to travel on the same bus at the same time shouldn’t be hard. We deserve the same freedom to travel that non-disabled people enjoy.

My wheelchair, a tool of independence and freedom, could be bringing me so much more if society deemed to give me more than the bare minimum. 


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2 replies on “My wheelchair was supposed to give me freedom, but inaccessible transport means I am still restricted. ”

I’ve never had to use a wheelchair myself, at least not so far. But I have always felt for people in them.
I could especially feel the sting you feel about the lack of space on buses! That when you’re already in it, they often can’t let another wheelchair user in as a result. I feel bad for them, too!
I’m in the U.S. and even though almost every parking lot has at least a couple of handicap spots in it (as in ones that have the matching handicap signs of the ID tags that the driver puts in their rearview mirrors), seeing someone in a wheelchair is still a very rare occurrence for me. And I believe it’s because, in spite of those spots and also the one or two handicapped bathroom stalls, most places here in the U.S. are still not that accessible, either. For example, they still lack ramps or smooth enough grounding.
I don’t believe it’s primarily due to abelism as much as a serious lack of a state and federal budget leftover to install those things. Instead, so much of it’s going to our military that there’s hardly anything leftover. I don’t know about the U.K. but our government doesn’t really care about it’s people as much as it claims.
I agree with you 100% that SO much more needs to be done to respect and include all needs!

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