As we’ve all seen, a wheelchair user has won a case at the Supreme Court over the right to use wheelchair spaces on buses. Sure, it’s a good day but what does it really say about the state of things?
The story starts with wheelchair user, Doug Paulley, going about his business and hailing a bus operated by FirstGroup. Sure enough, there was a wheelchair space on board and a sign: “Please give up this space if needed for a wheelchair user”.
Of course, the tale continues that Mr Paulley was abandoned at the stop because a woman with a sleeping baby in a pushchair refused to move out of the designated area when asked by the bus driver, saying that the pushchair would not fold.
FirstGroup explained that it has a policy of “requesting but not requiring” non-disabled travellers, including those with babies and pushchairs, to vacate the space if it is needed by a wheelchair user.
A judge at Leeds County Court has now ruled that the policy breached FirstGroup’s duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people – even though a previous action proved unsuccessful and suggested that the “proper remedy” for wheelchair users to see improvements was to ask Parliament.
Although the case was successful, it was a somewhat cautious verdict; almost, one thinks, specifically designed not to provoke non-disabled people into thinking that they are being overlooked for the indulgence of a minority interest.
Lord Neuberger, the Supreme Court’s president, explained that Mr Paulley’s appeal was being allowed, but only to the limited extent that FirstGroup’s policy requiring a driver to simply request a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space without taking any further steps was unjustified.
Perhaps it’s just me but I don’t really see what’s been won, other than a grain of publicity and with it a tiny shaft of visibility in to a much bigger issue.
I don’t remember the last time that a local council had to appeal to Parliament for enforcement powers over payment of council tax or a parking ticket. If you park on a double yellow, you’re fined – end of story. Park your pushchair in a wheelchair bay – and it’s up to you to either do the right thing and move or just ‘brass it out’!
Disabled people don’t want to be made to feel ‘special’. As it is, the lack of discretion in service provision can feel awkward or embarrassing. Even for someone, such as myself, with a barely visible disability, it takes all my ‘front’ to ask for a seat whilst quietly flashing my card. Quite what I’d do if somebody said no, I’m not sure; lobby my MP?
Tom Jamison is the editor of disability lifestyle publication, Able Magazine.