Please Offer Me a Seat

a conversation

The Background

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, even a bit of yoga, 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, what disability they are dealing with, be it permanent or temporary, who would appreciate a seat on the bus or train, thereby making their journey just that little bit easier and who may find it awkward to ask for a seat, to have a seat made available to them without their having to ask. I have rarely had a problem obtaining a seat, however I’m not backward in asking, people have been, in the main, 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. Some of us, on the other hand, would either not feel the need to wear a badge or not feel comfortable wearing one and that’s also okay.

In 2016, Transport for London ran a successful trial of the programme, participants reported that 72% of their journeys were easier as a result of the badge, 86% felt more comfortable asking for a seat, and 98% would recommend the badge to someone who needs it. On April 28 2017, London rolled out a permanent version of the ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ programme.

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 ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ is also much, 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. ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ represents a small component in helping us all to live in community.

‘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, to this point, rejected my proposal. So, I have created a survey to hopefully convince him to reconsider. Whilst this project will require much planning, including an awareness campaign, it’s a project whose time has come, making a contribution to having a conversation about living with a disability. ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ represents a small component in helping us all to live in community.

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Comments from survey participants

Excellent idea. I use public transport in Sydney twice daily and often see people in need who are not offered a seat.

Survey Participant

22/12/2019

It’s really important for the many people who have legitimate disabilities which may not be immediately obvious to others, and especially those who are not comfortable having to approach others and risk embarrassing situations and confrontations. I’m all for these badges!

Survey Participant

06/12/2019

Travelling with my daughter who has a largely invisible intellectual disability & for whom standing on public transport is not an option.

Survey Participant

05/12/2019

The badge would be a great idea. However, leading up to the launch of this badge, the general public must be made aware of it so that they know how to respond in a respectful and timely manner if they see people wearing the badges. Otherwise, the people wearing them may feel more uncomfortable if no one responds or abuses them for wearing it.

Survey Participant

08/12/2019

I don’t use any aids but can’t balance well so people can’t tell by looking at me that I need to sit. I often wait for the next bus if there are no seats available.

Survey Participant

05/12/2019

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'Please Offer Me a Seat' Survey Results

Number of respondents: 125

Do you need a seat?
YES, I HAVE in the past needed, or currently need, a seat when using public transport
59%
74
NO, I HAVE NOT needed a 'Courtesy Seat'
40%
50
I'm not sure
1%
1
Your experience (if you have needed a seat)
YES, I have had trouble obtaining a seat when I've needed one
85%
62
NO, I haven't had trouble obtaining a seat when I've needed one
11%
8
I don't know
4%
3
To ask or not to ask
YES, I was, or would be, PREPARED to ask for a seat
34%
42
NO, I was, or would be, RELUCTANT to ask for a seat
59%
73
I don't know
7%
9
Wearing the badge
YES, I would wear a 'Please Offer Me a Seat' Badge
87%
108
NO, I don't think I would wear a badge
8%
10
I don't know
5%
6