Please Offer Me a Seat

I am a brain tumour survivor, for that I thank many people, not least my brilliant medical team and support crew. Whilst I am recovering well, I do still have one or two issues, which means that when I travel on public transport I need to be seated, otherwise I run the risk of ending up flat on my face on the floor, (which would be embarrassing for all concerned) as the bus, or train, lurches, as it invariably does, or stops suddenly, or rounds a corner at an angle askew of the strictly perpendicular. The issue, for me, is balance, or the lack of it – I still have a small amount of the tumour in my brain, left there post surgery, as it was crushing my brain stem and so the medical wisdom is that it can stay there indefinitely as long as it doesn’t cause trouble. The downside is that the tumour impacts on the part of the brain that enables me to maintain my balance. I am slowly retraining my brain, walking is good, pilates also, to overcome this hopefully temporary glitch.

I came across ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’, a widely acclaimed initiative operated by Transport for London, as part of my research for the national brain tumour e-News publication I was editing at the time. The project is firstly, for all people, regardless of who they are, who would appreciate a seat on the bus or train, thereby making their journey just that little bit easier and who find it awkward to ask for a seat, to have a seat made available to them without their having to ask. I have never had a problem obtaining a seat, I have never been backward in asking, people are generous but on the flip-side is the reality that many people who require a seat are not inclined to ask for one, yet if there was some way of letting their fellow passengers know that they’d appreciate a helping hand, it would make all the difference.

In most instances, it’s not apparent to others that people who need a seat do actually need to sit down. Indeed, according to the National Disability Insurance Agency, 88% of disabilities are invisible. I have had conversations with people in this situation, MS sufferers, cancer patients returning from chemotherapy, people living with chronic pain, people recovering from surgery, people with mental health issues who need a seat just to recalibrate and regain a semblance of control. For some, if not most, it can be embarrassing to have to ask for a seat, when it needn’t be, in fact shouldn’t be. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for a seat, it’s a sign of strength, to feel empowered to ask for a helping hand with this aspect of your life. 

But it is also much more than that, the project might also start a conversation about the ways we can go about caring for each other, about raising awareness of people with disabilities that we may not ourselves be aware of.

Disability comes in many forms and most of us know at least one person who may be in a position of living with a permanent or temporary condition that makes standing in public transport difficult. Transport for London even very kindly sent me some of their badges. The NSW State Minister for Transport has rejected my proposal but I’m not inclined to give up on the idea just yet. ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ represents a small component in helping us all to live in community. I haven’t, as yet, been able to impress upon the Minister that one doesn’t have to, if one doesn’t want to, wear the badge. It’s only for people who would have trouble asking, or for those who, heaven forbid, want to start a conversation.

‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ has the support of the Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, my local Council Mayor, my local State Member of Parliament and a number of other members of parliament. Unfortunately, the one member of parliament, whose opinion matters the most, the NSW State Minister for Transport, has rejected my proposal. I also have the idea of running a design competition in our schools for our kids to design a logo and we know how creative they are, this will kick the conversation along. Whilst this project will require much planning, it’s a project whose time has come – there is no doubt that it will come to fruition and start a conversation about living with a disability. ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ represents a small component in helping us all to live in community.