Flash Says…

Pushing perspective: Wheelchair meets Buggy

Posted on: 2011-02-10

Usually, access improvements benefit both wheelchair users and parents pushing baby buggies. So why is it so awkward when both parties meet on a bus? Is there any common ground, or will they automatically resent each other’s presence? Sophie, pregnant mum to a toddler, and Lisa, a wheelchair user, explain where they are coming from.

Sign reading 'Priority wheelchair area. This space is reserved for someone in a wheelchair. Baby buggies. Buggies can use this area if it is not needed by a wheelchair user.'

The wheelchair user

I regularly travel on the buses, but if I could be on the tube for a journey that takes half the time, then I would be. I’m only there due to lack of alternatives.
When I see a buggy on board my heart sinks because I know that either the bus driver won’t stop to let me on; the bus driver will tell me they’re not letting me on because there’s already a buggy there; the driver will ask the parents to fold the buggy and the parent will become verbally abusive; or the parent will fold the buggy but because it takes time everyone else on the bus becomes hostile towards me for making their journey longer. Whatever happens I feel that I’m going to end up hated by someone just for being a wheelchair user.
I can’t fold my chair, because it has a rigid frame. Some bits are removable but that’s far too complex for doing on a bus.
I’ve shared the bay, and it’s not big enough for two!
I wish that… there were both buggy bays and wheelchair bays, like on London’s bendy buses. Signage and awareness are, of course, key issues too. A lot of parents think of the space as “the buggy space” despite the fact that its designation actually is “wheelchair space which may be used by buggies if it’s not needed by a wheelchair user.”
I would like buggy users to remember that they can choose whether to buy a buggy that’s difficult to fold or doesn’t fold at all. I had no choice in the matter.

The buggy pushing parent

I regularly travel on the buses, travelling distances of between 2 and 35 miles. I use a lightweight single buggy, for my 22 month old son. However, I’m expecting my second child soon and will be using a much heavier, bigger double buggy.
When I see a wheelchair on board I dread getting on the bus. It’s nothing personal, I just know that I’ll have to collapse the buggy and then control my son for the journey! On longer trips this is daunting and a bit exhausting.
I can fold my buggy, but being 7 months pregnant, it’s not ideal! It’s hard having to hold a small person while doing it.
I’ve shared the bay, and it was a bit of a squeeze. The bays on most buses have a metal column against it, which is very difficult to manoeuvre round, especially in a hurry (and bus drivers do like driving off when you’re trying to get out of the bay!)
I wish that… the bays were bigger. I also wish the drivers would stop longer at ‘halts’ if they know a buggy user is getting off or on – I’ve often had to sway up a moving bus, because the driver can’t hang on for 30 seconds. Or they have driven away from the stop while I am still trying to get the buggy into the aisle to get off.
I would like wheelchair users to remember that it is not always easy transporting small children and that the bus service is a community service, for everyone.

Sophie and Lisa were speaking to Flash Bristow


7 Responses to "Pushing perspective: Wheelchair meets Buggy"

I had both problems, having a disabled child who needed a major buggy. When my daughter was younger I had big problems using buses, for all the reasons you mention. I had aggressive parents unwilling to move, I had drivers unwilling to enforce the wheelchair priority rules, and I was made to feel awkward by wheelchair users who saw a child in a pushchair rather than a child with an invisible disability in a buggy designed for older, disabled children. My young buggy user would display behavioural difficulties who would go hyper if I took her out of the buggy, putting herself and others in danger and causing mayhem wherever she went. She would also get very upset at having to wait, especially when we couldn’t get on the bus when it finally arrived.

Eventually it became so stressful that I made the choice to learn how to drive. My daughter was able to claim mobility allowance, so we got a car, enabling us to cut out all those stressful journeys altogether. But of course, not everyone has the luxury of being able to drive, or having a carer to drive them around.

The only solution I can think of is to remove seats from buses altogether, or to have only a few to accommodate those who need to sit, elderly, pregnant and, of course, disabled people.

Very interesting interviews! I have a 6 month old baby and use the buses every day. I use a buggy only when I know I won’t be using the bus, though! When I do use the bus, I carry my baby in a sling. I hate the thought of being left waiting in the rain because there are already 2 buggies or a wheelchair on the bus: I hate the idea of having to fold up the buggy while holding my baby on a busy (and possibly moving) bus: and I hate the idea of getting in the way of someone using a wheelchair. I honestly don’t know why more people don’t use slings/baby carriers – I would recommend them to anyone, but especially bus users.

I have an almost 7-month-old baby and I HATE taking the buggy on the bus. It’s always crowded and my buggy is fairly large and very impractical to fold – I will wait for the next bus rather than fold it. I have only taken it on the bus four or five times and each time it’s been a nightmare. One one of those occasions I was on the bus when we pulled up at a stop where a wheelchair user wished to board – naturally I got off the bus immediately and smiled at him, it was his priority and I can’t believe that anyone would be verbally abusive in such a situation. It was certainly a pain that it was snowing and I had run out of money on my Oyster card and we were in the middle of a residential area I didn’t know at all – luckily the kind driver of the next bus let me on for free when I explained.

If at all humanly possible I always take my baby in the sling rather than the buggy if I know I’m going to be catching a bus, or a tube. It’s so much more practical – plus it means I get a seat! When he gets too heavy for this (though he is over 20lb already so not light) I will probably get a lightweight easy to fold buggy for use on public transport.

I’m lucky that my disabled son has a motability car for us to use. When he was a baby I couldn’t drive and would have to get on buses with a double buggy (I had a daughter, also). If I got on and the wheelchair spaces were occupied it was difficult to hold my baby son whilst simultaneously trying to collapse the buggy. Drivers will not help you – they just watch you, sighing. A few times someone would offer to hold the baby (my daughter was only 2 so she couldn’t do it) whilst I collapsed the buggy. Needless to say, a bus was my last option if I had far to go – otherwise walking was always preferable.

I can see the point that mums with pushchairs are making BUT it is easier for them to collapse a buggy, than it is for a wheelchair user to get up out of their chair. My son now has a wheelchair and he is 6. I’ve never attempted to board a bus with him because I know how difficult it would be. He cannot even stand so I could never expect him to just get out of his chair for me to collapse it. I would fully expect a pram user to collapse their pram to make space for his wheelchair. If they didn’t, I would stand my ground and I would get the driver to enforce the space as a designated wheelchair space. If he refused, I would refuse to move and then I would insist on having his badge number and for him to call for some form of back up or manager. I don’t care how embarrassed anyone would be – the fact is, the spaces are designated for wheelchair users with the option of buggies to use them should the space not be required. It is a privilege, not a right for buggies. It is a right, not a privilege for wheelchairs.

This is a fantastic post. I’m currently writing a report on bus accessibility. In my city as it seems there is in most, there is a lot of contention about wheelchair spaces in buses being used for parents with small children.

While it is not the only answer, giving both sides’ personal experiences should hopefully help towards understanding the issues and preventing these “foul mouthed” outbursts.

Just wondering if you or any wheelchair users have had or regularly have positive experiences of bus travel? Although buses are increasingly low floor and include wheelchair spaces, It’s hard to know to what extent wheelchair users are encouraged to use buses. Any ideas on how to make the experience more positive – should buggies and prams be banned from these spaces if they have a single space for themselves?

A very complex issue – and your approach is the best I’ve seen anywhere so far Flash 🙂

Thanks very much for your comments! I don’t think banning buggies is the answer because if there is a demand to get more buggies on board, and an empty wheelchair space going begging, I can’t see parents standing by and letting the bus pass – everyone (buggy or not) will try to cram onto a bus if they possibly can, rather than wait for another! One difficulty is that the driver cannot easily intervene, short of turning the engine off and refusing to move until the wheelchair space has been cleared, or a buggy has been folded, or whatever is needed.

It’s difficult because of course it’s not easy travelling by bus for parents too – and then when you consider disabled parents it gets even more complicated, for example someone who needs to lean on the buggy like a walking frame and cannot physically fold it, but they don’t “look” disabled. (I have someone in mind when I give this example).

Nothing’s ever easy – but if only people would be a little more considerate, and aware of the other’s point of view, then people in wheelchairs and people with buggies would all rub along a little better rather than dreading the sight of each other!

Yes! if only people would be more considerate… but it’s impossible to enforce that of course, and drivers can’t force a buggy user to fold or move for a wheelchair user. It must be a hard job as people get so upset but you’re sometimes powerless to help.

Just as a point of information, here (large Northern city) parents who are disabled OR who have a disabled child in a wheelchair that looks like a buggy can contact the bus company for a special pass which says they don’t have to fold their buggy. You need a medical certificate or doctor’s note but if you’re in that situation and worried about bus travel it’s worth contacting the company!

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