Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Subway Challenge

On Sunday we went to see World War Zed and took the subway both there and back. It was playing across the street but only in 3D and neither Joe or I particularly like that extra D. We caught the subway on an unusually quiet Sunday morning. I had been hoping to get one of the new subway trains because if you enter where they have the blue badge access sign, they have a spot where the seats are automatically up and I can easily pull in to get my chair, and myself, out of the way.

The old trains have what they call 'priority seating' but they are down and need to be pulled up, so ... they are never actually available, or they would take way too much effort to make usable. In the new trains it's like they took this into consideration, something I appreciate.

So I got on the train to go south and began to swing over to where I could put the chair. But a woman sat there, on a pulled down seat, on an empty train, staring hard at me daring me to ask her to move. I did dare. "This space is for wheelchair users." She huffed, got up, slammed the seat back into place. I parked there, not disturbed a bit by her outburst.

The train was nearly empty.

There was lots of space.

Signage could not have been clearer as to the purpose of that space.

We got off, went to see World War Zed, and loved it. We headed back home in terrific heat. It was 31 degrees and the sun burned down on us. We'd forgotten sun screen so we tried to pick the shady sides of streets as we made our way back to the subway. The stop we used isn't a busy one on weekends and we waited for the train. Again it arrived nearly empty, it would fill up quickly just one stop away, but for now it was empty.

Again one of the seats was pulled down and again I was given a glare-dare challenging my need of the space. I was up to the challenge and again stated, politely like I did the first time, that that space was for wheelchair users, another huff and another puff and another slam and I had my space. I didn't care that I'd upset those going north and those going south. Not one bit. The trains were empty, they had lots of choices, I had but one. By asking for that space I made space for many others on the train and I felt safely out of the way.

But what struck me was how those two, and other's like them, make their choices and what their choices mean. Are they making a statement? Are they intentionally using those seats to protest the provision of space on trains for passengers with wheelchairs? Are they waiting for, wanting and hoping for a challenge, spoiling for a fight? I don't know.

Can you all help me out ... I do not believe that these two did what they did by accident, if they had, they'd have immediately got up, maybe given a word of apology, and moved. So, if it wasn't by accident ... what were they doing, what's their motive ... can any of you help me understand this?


Mary said...

Oooh, I know this one.

It's because perching on a seat nearest the exit, especially if it's a slightly less comfortable seat, says "I am only here temporarily." And, especially for women, it sometimes feels a bit safer to know that anyone hovering between you and the exit is going to be drawing attention to themselves - they can't casually block you in. Nor can anyone carelessly plop themselves into the seat next to you if it needs to be folded down first.

The huffing I would expect to be at least partly the embarrassment of having been 'caught' doing something wrong, as well as the feel of having to move out of a comfort zone.

I'm not saying it's okay - and there's no question whatsoever about wheelchair users having priority over the wheelchair spaces - but I think that's what's going on.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. To clarify, those seats were not nearest the exit door. They were across from it. The seats closest were regular seats right beside the door - which were empty on arrival. That's what got me, the train was near empty. But you've got me thinking again ... what was going on?

Utter Randomness said...

Sometimes people are nasty on purpose. Using public transit is a nightmare for me where I live. The priority seating here isn't just for wheelchair-using folk, it's for people who "have difficulty standing in a moving vehicle." So, it's for:
- Wheelchair-using folk
- Folk with strollers
- Folk with physical disabilities
- Folk with young kids
- Elderly folk
- Blind folk
- anyone else who needs it

These seats are first come, first served, and if I cannot get one then I have to wait for the next bus. If someone comes along and bullies me out of my seat, which happens, only for some reason it isn't considered bullying, because they're either elderly or parents with strollers, I have to get off the bus and wait for the next one.

It's a complete nightmare. I had an experience yesterday where a woman using a walker hit me square in the back with it, I guess so that she could get on the bus before me. She said that she didn't see me, which is, of course, possible, but it's unlikely given that I'm a big target and she could definitely see other things. Then a woman using a wheelchair got on, and everyone glared at me, including the person in priority seating with her bag on the seat next to her, until I stood up, planning to get off the bus, but no one would move so I could do so. I ended up falling, and the woman with the walker told everyone on the bus that I had fallen on purpose. But everyone dismissed her behaviour because of her age, and likely mine as well. I walk with 2 canes, I'm not exactly invisible, except, I am.

I don't know what the case is in Toronto, but it's possible that they were people with disabilities who needed those seats for safety reasons. Or, they could just be jerks. There are a lot of jerks out there. Or, as Mary said, those could be the safest seats for people nervous about traveling alone.

Moomin Girl said...

My guess? They sat there because they didn't know (ignorance or thoughtlessness),

they glared either because they were embarrassed/ashamed to be wrong, or because they were rude.

Anonymous said...

If those seats were not nearest the exit door, those people did not take the path of least resistance in choosing a seat; I must conclude, like you, that they chose them purposefully.

I am not as analytical as you, however, and would not care about their motivation. Self-centered, rude people are self-centered and rude.

I think it wonderful that you burst their smug little bubbles and made them move. I'm sorry it caused you effort, but I am glad you felt no compunctions.


Unknown said...

I honestly believe I am not cynical, but after thinking about this and discussing this for years with people who are learned I have come to conclude this: those people do not value us. They believe people with disabilities are not worth their consideration. They are important, we are not. Fortunately, as you have often pointed out, it is not all people.

Andrea S. said...

I am at a loss to explain this particular variety of rudeness/selfishness. Perhaps they have the attitude that people with disabilities have an overly inflated sense of entitlement because we do sometimes need things that other people don't need. An unfortunate portion of the population seems to conflate the idea of "absolutely need to have in order to access the service at *all*" with the idea of "I have a whimsical and trivial desire". Thus they perceive our requests for accommodation as being inherently selfish desires.

This can happen not only with disability access needs but also sometimes with other things. (For example, I can remember trying to talk with a cafeteria manager years ago about whether there was a way they could start to offer healthier options: he seemed to see little difference between a request for HEALTHY food needed to, e.g., prevent heart problems versus people who simply happen to prefer one flavor of ice cream to another or whatever.) But probably more often with disability-related needs.

Rosemary said...

If they had somehow taken the seat accidentally, they would have more than likely been gracious and apologetic. I think they knew, didn't care and were purposely nasty. The world is, unfortunately, home to such folks (but I still believe there is more good than bad).

Jo Kelly said...

They do it for the same reason that women always use the designated stall in a bathroom! Because they can.....I challenge people on this all the time - you have access to 12 stalls while I have access to 1. You do the math! Rude, ignorant and thoughtless.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh . . . but people who sit in labelled seats are IMPORTANT people - and don't want to be challenged in their status!

Anonymous said...

I guess my only question would be if the seats were at the easiest access from the entrance and were the people possibly disabled in a "non-visable" way. I.e., Did the person have lung disease which makes walking another step feel like another mile? Or more likely, they were self important a** bites who think they should have anything they want. Too bad you can not detect a diagnosis from a glare!

CapriUni said...

While it is possible, as Utter Randomness has said, that sometimes people who need the priority seating have invisible disabilities, I doubt they would have reacted with the hostility you describe here.

My own hypothesis is that these people aren't consciously looking to pick a fight with any actual person (because I don't believe they go through their day even considering people outside their Venn Diagram of "normal"), but with ... well... the world as it is.

They might see the existence of priority seating as some sort of political act -- "Put on these trains by 'do-gooders of the Nanny State for the sake of 'political correctness'. After all, everyone knows those people don't actually use the subway, and it's a waste of good space."

And so they choose to sit there as as sort of political act, to prove themselves right.

Then -- you show up: a counterpoint argument to their logic that happens to be made of flesh and bone. ...And they react in a similar manner as they would in a verbal argument when confronted with a fact they could not answer: Humphing loudly, and stamping off.

Anonymous said...

Oh Dave,

extremly good question and I have no idea about the answer either.

But today I was travelling to Frankfurt by subway and at noon back to my home town. The subway was crammed but because I got on fairly early I got a seat at the window. And all the seats arround me were taken pretty fast too.

At the central station a very old lady entered and had to stand because there was no empty seat left. And she looked exhausted. And I started to argue with myself whether I should stand up and offer her my seat. The following thoughts went through my head: - should I offer her my seat beside being extremly exhusted myself and struggeling with my heart failure during the last week - why did noone else around her some of the people being younger than me offer her the seat nearer to the entrance - should I offer even so I had to travel for another half hour maybe she would leave the train at the next stop? - why disnt she ask someone at the place for the elderly and disbeld to let hersit?

I was glad when I could stop to worry because at the next stop somone left and she sat at that place.

Should I have even thought this thoughts?

I hat public travelling because of all the different aocial challenges it gets me into....


Anonymous said...

If it was the "old-style", I would say it was simple ignorance/being a little clueless. This would mean that the person:
1) enters the car
2) goes to the accessible place and sits (a person who used a wheelchair would have to unlock/release the seat so it flips up and there is room for the wheelchair)

But since this was one the newer trains, that means (correct me if I'm wrong) that the person
1) enters the car
2) goes to the accessible place
3) somehow unlocks/releases the seat in order to put it DOWN and actually create a seat

That's a LOT of effort! I don't see how that can be interpreted as anything but being mean!?!?

Deb (NJ)

Anonymous said...

Julia (with the story about the older woman not having the seat)

Amazing, huh? About 25 years ago, I was in my early 20s and commuting to downtown NY city. I quickly learned the trick of standing near the doors of the subway car and rushing to get a seat. After succeeding one morning, I closed my eyes to grab a catnap. I opened them several minutes later to find a woman standing in front of me - she had a cane and one foot was in a brace/cast. Ack!! I was horrified and looked around to see WHY hadn't someone offered her a seat - I was surrounded by LOTS of people. I asked her if she'd like to sit down. Her face changed immediately from stoic to relieved and she thanked me as we switched positions. No one even glanced over in our direction (and it took a little maneuvering for us to switch positions). That was the very last time I raced to get a seat.

Deb (NJ)

Anonymous said...

It's kind of like when able bodied people pick the only handicap stall in an empty restroom to make a phone call. They had other choices, you only have one.


Anonymous said...

I think this somehow relates to your post about how everyone uses the handicapped entrance because it's the easiest. I don't think anyone intended to be mean. I have never been on the Canadian subway, but is it possible that the seat across from the exit is the safest place to watch who is getting on and off rather than directly next to the exit. Especially on an empty or near empty car. Then probably they were embarrassed to have been called out for taking the accessible seat.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully they were just embarrassed
they should be! and they should be doubly embarrassed at their reactions.
so sad.