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Life On the Buses | Travelling as a wheelchair user with small children

(Title Image featuring stick figure version of me and my littles) 

Accessibility: This post features Image Description for Visually impaired readers

(Pictured: Symbol style picture of a lady in a wheelchair, baby in a buggy and little girl skipping about to board a bus. Presenting our unique perspective)

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts focusing on travelling on public transport here in the UK.

I am in a unique position where I'm a disabled Mum, in a powerchair (completely non-ambulatory) and travel via all forms of public transport with my 4 and 1 year old in tow the majority of the time. We aren't in a position to have a wheelchair van at this point in time so my girls have only ever known the "first come, first served" attitude when we try as a family to board a bus. To date the record for how many buses we had no choice but to watch leave without us is 6 in a row. Six. If we want to board as a family which would mean me in my chair, my youngest in her buggy and holding onto my 4 year olds hand, we had to wait until the bus had absolutely no other pram, trolleys or wheelchairs/walkers in that "designated wheelchair space" AND hope it wasn't a First group bus who's driver followed the rules to the letter. Which if you're not familiar with is, ONE wheelchair OR ONE buggy, never both for health and safety reasons. Though we are incredibly lucky that drivers where I live in Bolton, Greater Manchester know us well and use common sense of keeping a family unit together to travel and let us work it out between us how to play tetris in that space, so we can get to where we need to go. After 5 years of boarding with my daughters buggy aswell we've got it down to a fine art!

(IMAGE: Example of designated wheelchair space on public bus in our area)

The issues we face in actually boarding a bus can at times be accompanied with many a driver not recognising we are a family. The driver often assumes that my PA is my youngest's Mum, as she pushes her in the buggy when out. So I learnt early on that I had to actually tell drivers we were a family, not just huddled together as friends so they'd use common sense to try and let us on together. Being a disabled parent doesn't mean I'm exempt from the common woes of a average wheelchair user boarding a bus either. Here are some issues I experienced in general before kids and still face today...

🚌 Drivers acting like they don't see you waving down the bus, in an effort to save time on their schedule as deploying the ramp can cost precious minutes...
🚌 Drivers slamming down the ramp and not speaking to you when you give them your pass/thank them for taking the time out to let you on (even though it's their job to not discriminate...I still feel the need to be overly thankful).
🚌 Not being able to board a smaller bus due to lack of turning space for a powerchair. These are often older models you see in smaller towns that are being slowly phased out thank goodness!
🚌 Passengers using the drop down seats in the wheelchair space being unwilling/not speaking English when asked to please scoot further up the bus so you may use the space. Afterall they have the choice of sitting absolutely anywhere on the bus, we have one spot.
🚌 Wheelchair spaces being used for luggage/wheely bags/unused buggies.

I could go on and on. If you're interested in learning more about what a wheelchair user in general faces on British buses please see the wonderfully informative "End Of The Line 2016 Report" by MDUK Trailblazers.

The Impact The "Wheelchair Vs Buggys" Debate had on Disabled Parents

(IMAGE: Parent with pram vs wheelchair user stand-off) 

Sadly the whole wheelchair vs Buggys incident (CLICK HERE to read about why Doug Paulley took First Group bus company to court and the final outcome) caused my family a great deal of difficulty - more so than usual, because the bus companies over the past 12-15 months have been afraid to deal with an argument over who's more worthy of the space. So instead they decided to prevent any dispute happening at all, particularly First Group, by only letting ONE wheelchair user on or ONE buggy. Disabled parents are a minority and bus drivers are not trained on bending the rules for us. In fact you're lucky if all drivers have disability awareness training nevermind on what to do when they encounter a family like ours.

During the time Doug Paulley took First Group to court, we ended up missing a very important hospital appointment for my eldest who is visually impaired. We couldn't board 2 buses in a row and had a to-do with the 3rd buses driver, even after turning up extra early knowing we'd face an issue as we had been since the court case had hit the papers. We couldn't be separated. I needed to be in the consultants room with my little girl. That day I had no child care for Ava either, just like any can't always secure childcare so all the kids have to come with you. The 501s to Royal Bolton Hospital are ALL First Group buses. The first 2 buses had several buggys on board, the 3rd bus had 1 baby in a buggy. Knowing we were likely to miss this vital appointment with my daughters specialist and by this point both my girls were very bored and tired, I went upto the driver and yelled to him, was there any way he'd let me and the lady with the baby already on, work it out so we could all get on. He said a flat out No. He wasn't putting his job on the line letting a wheelchair on with all what's going on with First Group. I'd been talking to this lovely older lady who was also going to Royal Bolton that afternoon while we were waiting and that's when it happened. To my amazement human compassion presented itself in the most touching way. All 18 people waiting for that third 501, with this ballsy lady as their lead, told the driver they were prepared to physically stop the bus from leaving until he agreed to let me and the girls on to play wheelchair buggy tetris with the parent already on. The driver scoffed, not believing them and told them all to just get on and stop causing a scene. The lady with the baby on board heard the commotion and came upto the drivers seat and told him that in her opinion we would all fit. Nobody was going to call his boss and grass on him. All he had to do was let us try. He finally got out of his seat and deployed the ramp to a round of applause! And yes, we did all fit just the thing! Though unfortunately we still missed my daughters appointment that day and consequently had to wait 3 months for another.

I know that particular incident will always stay with me - in a good way though.

(IMAGE: Abbigail all wrapped up looking out for our bus as we stood under the shelter)

I've talked about alot of the hardships travelling with a buggy when you're in a wheelchair can cause, and you're probably wondering why we continue to do this every single day if it's this hard. The answer is simple. If we don't, we'd never get out. Sure it's hard, we miss buses, the girls get bored and tired, I sometimes get ill from waiting out in the rain or cold too long BUT, we get out. We do eventually get to where we want to go and I'm on a mission to prove to my girls that you don't just give up when things get rough, you get back on the saddle and you try again. That is life!

We spark a lot of curiosity on our adventures on public transport and mostly this is a good thing. It gives society a glimpse of what family life is like for a disabled parent, it's physical proof a disabled parent can manage daily life and that the children are treated no different due to the parents disability, it gives them the opportunity to change their point of view by seeing me playing an active role in the community. I didn't have the girls to prove a point, I had them because I wanted to be a Mum. With doing so I've managed to normalise people with disabilities starting families to our local community. At first I was embarrassed going out with my children, I had no confidence and was so worried about what other people thought of me for having kids, it impinged on my enjoyment of getting out as a family. Like anything though, the more you do it, the easier it is and I couldn't feel more "normal" now. Yes I did need to learn to stand up for myself and get creative with my answers to people who's curiosity was somewhat rude...but the majority of the community that see us out and about stop to coo over the girls and chat, they have nice things to say about our family dynamic. I'm grateful for public transport coming such a long way in regards to access because I, like lots of other parents don't have the means to have our own vehicle. So the buses, trains, metro etc are our connection with the community, a vital link to our family's freedom. It's 2017 and accessibility in the UK is deemed some of the BEST the the world and for that I'm so glad we live here! Access to transport means my kids don't miss out on getting out and about. Despite the rough times we've had, we get there in the end. I'll always be grateful to have the ability to go places because in the 90s when I was a kid I couldn't get on a bus in my chair. Now look, and it can only get better!

This blog post is linked-up with the following blogger linkies; #AccessLinky #Blogstravaganza 

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  1. I am also a wheelchair user, but haven't been brave enough to attempt traveling by bus, I rely on my husband to drive me#blogstravesgannder@_karendennis


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