VLOG: Tips for using public transport with a disability

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Battling with buses: a year on

Around this time last year I found myself trying to get used to using the bus on my own. This wasn’t something that I found easy, and it would make me very nervous. I don’t drive so I spend a lot of time on public transport and I found some types easier to deal with.

I mastered the train long before I felt confident enough to take the bus because I really wanted to make a surprise trip home from university for my dad’s birthday. Once I’d done it for the first time, I felt confident enough to do it again and again. It was like the world had opened up to me and I had more independence than ever before. It was wonderful and it also meant that I could take more trips back home when I started to miss my mother’s cooking.

Getting the bus felt like a whole other ball game to me because there were so many other things to consider than remembering to book my rail assistance 24hrs before I wanted to travel so that someone would be able to help me with the ramp. Buses brought with the other challenges. I had to worry about fitting my walking frame on the bus so that no one would trip over it, and if I had to able to be able to put it in that place for myself. I have seen many buses with a whole range of different layouts, some of which I find easier than others but I never know which one will turn up.

if I have to be anywhere by a certain time I need to get one or two buses earlier than the one that would get me there just about on time in case some turn up that don’t have enough space. This time last year the thought of boarding a bus without a friend or someone to help made me feel sick with nerves and I tried to avoid it as much as possible.

However, I am pleased to say that 12 months on, doing this doesn’t bother me too much anymore and I get the bus alone quite often, although my family will always try and meet me at the bus stop by our house when I get home again to help me get off. A lot of the drivers on my local route now recognise me and are always willing to help, as are a lot of the other passengers too, which is always lovely. I just try my best to avoid travelling at busier times and try to leave myself plenty of time to get to where I need to be so that I can be more relaxed.

If I know that I need to get a lot of shopping, or use my wheelchair instead of my walking frame, then I need to have someone with me. However, if I don’t need to carry a lot and will be using my frame, I know longer feel worried about having to go it alone.

I think that’s progress. I feel like I’ve gained so much more independence and I always find that to be one of the best feelings in the world.

Progress and success!

Today I have some exciting news for you all. Well, it makes me really happy, I’m not so sure about the rest of you, but I’m feeling really quite proud of my little self.

Those of you who’ve been following the blog for a while now will know that I used to have a lot of fears about taking my walking frame Martha on the bus by myself, because of access issues with getting on and off them, the amount of space she takes up while I’m on there, and my worries that there wouldn’t be enough room for her later on in the journey.

This had been a problem for me for a very long time and I was often too afraid to take the plunge to go in alone without an help because, let’s just say I’ve come across a few people being quite rude and being really quite unhelpful even I’ve had someone there with me. Thing is, I’m 22 now and I knew I had to shape up try face this sometime. So I did. It wasn’t easy. In fact, I found it really stressful. Sometimes I’d have to try really hard not to cry out of fear and relief at different times.

My mum would always ride the bus with me when I was going into town to meet my friends, then walk home again, only to walk back to town to pick me up again and take the bus home with me. As much as I appreciated her doing this, it wasn’t fair and I knew it had to stop.

Slowly, I began to feel more at ease if I timed my journeys so that they were evening ones, when the transport is quieter, but after doing I didn’t feel quite so uneasy, got excited and wrote a post about it telling you all I thought that I was maybe making some progress.

Well…

Fast-forward a couple of months and I honestly can’t remember the last time that anyone got the bus with me unless they just so happen to be heading in the same direction! I know now that if the bus gets too busy while I’m halfway through the journey I can just get off and wait for the next one if they’re regular enough and it doesn’t bother me now. Mum still walks me as far as the bus stop near my house, and meets me at it when I get back off, but I’m not going to turn having company to walk home with.

In fact, I was on a bus just yesterday and someone I’ve noticed a few times asked me if I was by myself. Not in a rude way, but in a pleasantly surprised one. I don’t know if it’s because this person recognised me too but had only ever seen me with someone else. A small, self-centred, part of me hoped that this was true and that they were, in a way, recognising my achievement without really realising.

I’d still rather take the train given the chance, but if you had told me at the start of the year that I’d feel so relaxed about buses I’d probably have laughed and said “not likely”.

This accomplishment may seem small, but I have surprised myself and managed something that I’d begun to doubt I ever could.

With that, I am happy.

The sisters are doing it for themselves

Well, my little sister Sophie came to my aid again yesterday. I needed to wonder into town to collect one of my book reservations from the library (Joyland by Stephen King, if you’re wondering) and I’d already agreed to spend some time with Sophie while my mum ran some errands, so I suggested that we turn it into a girly shopping day. I knew she wanted to pick up some accessories for a new party dress she’s just got, plus it would give me the chance to spoil her a bit for all the stuff she does for me.

I was mostly expecting her  to say that she’d much rather have movie day because she loves the chance to choose a DVD from my collection rather than the family one, (just lately we’ve tried to watch the Addams Family Values about four times but we always keep getting interrupted), but she agreed straight away. She said she was in the mood to find something pretty for her new outfit. She even declined the offer to go and see Monsters University at the cinema afterwards, telling me that she wasn’t in a film mood. However, I wouldn’t have blamed her for backing out when I mentioned that we’d have to get the bus together.

Whenever we go out, it’s usually my folks who take care of the folding and unfolding of my walking frame Martha so today would be a first for her. She’s seen some of the challenges I’ve faced on public transport with mum around so I did wonder if she’d change her mind, but she didn’t. I showed her how to collapse Martha and put her back up again and she seemed to manage just fine. I gave her the option of staying home again, but she said she still wanted to go, so she helped me with my shoes and off we went.

I could tell that she was nervous, because she was really quiet as we waited at the stop. To tell you the truth I was equally nervous being the one responsible for the safe keeping of her mobile phone and spending money (courtesy of the Bank of Dad). Luckily when the it arrived there were no other prams/wheelchairs/walking frames so we were okay. She helped me guide Martha on safely, took her own seat and gave me a massive grin,

“Feel better now?” I asked. She nodded.

At the other end a nice gentleman helped me get off again and she took care of Martha. That was the hard part over with. I was so proud of her. If she was worried, it didn’t stop her from taking on the bus challenge with me. I tried my best to make sure she had some fun and even took her for milkshake, a very well deserved milkshake.  Oh, and some hairspray. And some hair clips.

Making progress, maybe…

There have been a few occasions now where I’ve blogged about getting butterflies in my tummy when it comes to using the bus on my own. I’ve done a bit when I’ve not really had a choice but I always worry about being able to get my Nimbo frame Martha on and off, and there being room for my walking frame on board and a whole host of other things.  I usually try and avoid going it alone as much as possible, but I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to just get over it and get on with it so that I won’t be so nervous anymore.  Well, I have some news…

I DID IT AGAIN!!

Yup, that’s right. And this time I could have chickened out and got a taxi, but I didn’t. Sure, my friend stood and watched me get on in case there were any problems and my mum met me at the other end just to give me an extra bit of confidence, but I did the rest. Well, for the most part.

I lugged Martha up and down the ramps and negotiated her into a safe position for the ride. A nice man did help me get the frame back out of the hole I’d wedged it and myself into when I reached my stop so that I didn’t have to struggle quite so much to do it. The important thing is though that I felt able to do it for myself, I just didn’t want to offend the guy by throwing his kindness back in his face, and, I’ll be honest, he did it far faster than I could’ve done.

The thing that surprised me most of all though wasn’t the fact that I achieved what I set out to do (get home in one piece), it was that those butterflies didn’t kick up anywhere near as much as they usually do. I’m not sure if that was because I travelled at a time of day when people weren’t trying to get their kids to and from school and most shoppers had already gone home for the day, or if it was simply down to the fact that I’m slowly getting more comfortable with getting the bus like I am already am with the train.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m seriously hoping it’s the latter.

Learning to ask for help

One of the hardest things for me to do when I was younger was learn to ask for help. Disabled or not we all have to ask someone to lend a hand every now and then. It can happen at any time. Whether it’s when you’re sat in class at school, the first day of your new job when you’re so nervous you’re almost too scared to move in case you knock something over, never mind ask someone to explain something again, or needing to ask directions in a new place. Okay, maybe not as many of us worry about being clumsy (like me), but I think you get my point. Admitting you’re not Superman is hard at first.  It does get better though, honest.

Earlier this week I took my walking frame Martha on her first proper trip to city. I went alone so I didn’t have my parents of any of my friends with me who are always more than willing to come to my aid. If I needed something I was going to have to either speak up or struggle.

I booked my rail assistance 24hrs in advance so that I could give staff at both of the train stations I used that day plenty of notice that I’d be around and I’d need assistance with the ramps to help get me on and off the train. Luckily I use both of these regularly, one being my local station and the other being a connecting station I used on my many trips to and from university. It also happens to be one of my favoured shopping hangouts so it’s fair to say I’m there quite often. The people who work at them both recognise me and what helps me best quite well now. A lot of the conductors know my face too, and even the driver on one of my more regular routes knows who I am the so all this is really reassuring. It’s nice to see a few friendly faces, especially if I’m nervous about my trip for whatever reason. If my plans ever change last minute they’ll always try their best to help me get earlier or later trains which is really helpful.

While I was out and about I had to smile sweetly at a few passersby and ask them to help me open the doors in the coffee shop where I had lunch, pick something up that I had dropped on the floor and couldn’t reach (told you I’m clumsy, didn’t I?) or help me put my shopping into bags at the checkout. Once upon a time I would have been too shy (not proud, but shy) to ask a stranger to do me a favour. Then, as I got older I realised that I was only asking someone to help me with small things and not to give me the moon on a stick. It took me a long time to realise that we all need help sometimes. Watching my friends all do things for each other at school and even more so when I went to uni that no one lives a truly independent life. All humans are interdependent on each other in some way. For example, that same day I spotted a lady in the supermarket asking a fellow shopper to get something down off a high shelf for her. I smiled to myself knowingly as he obliged.

It’s very rare that someone won’t help if I ask, and that’s mostly when they’re in a rush themselves so I can’t blame them. More often than not, people will do what they can and then walk away with smile on their face feeling happy that they’ve done a good turn.

Birthday Surprises

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Dad and I

At the risk of sounding like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, I like trains. In fact I like them an awful lot, but probably not for the same reasons he does. Unlike Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons) I can’t name them model, and if there is a way to get somewhere that is much faster I’ll choose that option rather than make my friends add hours to their journey just so I can ride on a choo-choo, but they are one of my more favoured modes of public transport.

For a long time I was just as afraid of them as I am of the bus. I’d heard all sorts of horror stories from people about them being left on board and ending up in all sorts of places they’d never intended to be, but given that I knew you could book ramp assistance and seats to help with disabled access I knew it was one thing that I would have to conquer in the end. I started out small at first when I found myself an internship at a company that was based a half-an-hour ride away from my home. Mum came with me the first day to make sure that everything went smoothly – and it did- so for the rest of the time I was on my own. Although this short journey was a massive victory for me, the real turning point came for me a few months later when I decided to travel back home from university by myself to surprise my dad for his birthday.

This was an even bigger challenge than the one I had faced getting to my placement and back. I had chosen to go to a university that was about 70 miles away from where I lived and would take me two trains – yes two – to get there. I’d had the idea for weeks, as soon as I realised that I had the afternoon of his special day – a Tuesday- off and I didn’t have another lecture until Thursday afternoon, but it took me about a week to pluck up the courage to book the tickets. I paid for them instantly and made arrangements for assisted travel before I could change my mind.  I hardly slept the night before with nerves. I’d never got more than one train per trip before and all I could think about was all the things that could go wrong. Every time I had a thought like that I tried to push it away and think only of how it would all be worth it to see the look on Dad’s face. This wasn’t about me, it was about him.

Thankfully on the day things all went according to plan. Members of station staff even walked me from one platform to another which was more than I had been expecting (in a good way) and when I saw my mum and her new partner waiting for me as I got off the last train so that she could take me to my Dad’s flat I thought that I might fall to my knees in relief.

When the three of us wondered into his kitchen together he just looked between us all and saw that my Mum and her partner were both in their work uniforms. For a second he looked confused and then he realised what I had done to get there,  smiled and looked as if he were about to cry.

I learned an important life lesson that day, two actually. I learned that I could manage the train by myself (with a little help, but there’s no shame in that) and I learned that it is important to push ourselves sometimes, if not for ourselves but for the sake of those around us.

That was almost two years ago now. It is my Dad’s birthday again on Friday and I really have no idea what to get him this year. I’m not sure if I can ever top my surprise, but I’m always willing to try.