After a few months wait, Transport for London opened applications for their ‘Please offer me a seat’ blue badge last week. This badge was created for disabled people, in particular, those who invisible conditions and it is a big step towards a fully inclusive London for everyone!
I was fortunate to be one of 1000 participants involved in the trial of the badge. As someone who previously would have rather passed out than ask for a seat, I can say that the badge genuinely changed my life. I’m a very extroverted person, but I personally found it difficult wearing the badge for the first few journeys. After a number of trips, I figured some things out and changed my approach. Since then I have used my badge with total confidence and I thought I would share some of the things I learned:
I still find asking someone for their seat a pretty dreadful activity. I feel awkward and uncomfortable, even though I know I really need the seat. It can be a bit of a clumsy dance because it isn’t always clear who will get up for you, but just stand firm. Hold your ground and remember that you have absolutely every right to a seat! Someone will get up (even if a little begrudgingly) so don’t panic or get upset. The great thing is that it does get easier the more you do it.
IF YOU DON’T ASK, DON’T EXPECT!
I have a disability and because of this, I am constantly on the lookout for others who might need help. I, somewhat naively, expected other people to have the same mindset. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the case! People are looking at their phone/book/device, talking to friends, or generally just disconnected when they travel. Often (about 70% for me) people just see the badge and jump up to give you a seat. But if they don’t you will have to ask – loudly and clearly – for a seat. It’s normally at this point when I find most people snap out of their daydream or distraction and jump into action. Often times they are even a bit embarrassed that they hadn’t noticed the badge until then! And if you’re really lucky, four people stand up at once and you can relish in this moment – you’re TFL royalty.
I’m going to share my big secret… I’m claustrophobic. I freak out in lifts and I really have to psych myself out to go on the tube. I’m normally headphones on, book out until my end destination trying to pretend I’m not hundreds of metres underground. But since I’ve started needing a seat and wearing the badge, this really isn’t an option. You need to be able to hear everything going on around you. Often times you may be looking in one direction, but people behind you are offering you a seat. And also because people are curious! They often stare or look back repeatedly through the journey. These are new badges and most people will not have encountered them. Be patient and if someone is staring at the badge, don’t feel self-conscious! It’s just the badge, not you. I found that people are often dying to ask about the badge, but perhaps don’t know how to or don’t want to offend somehow. So if they are staring or looking inquisitive, I always smile and say hello to open conversation. Awareness is key to these badges success!
A SMILE & THANK YOU GOES A LONG WAY!
It sounds so cliche, but it really does make a huge difference. Although people are mostly happy to give up their seat, sometimes they behave like they’ve been put out by the request. I always try to remember that they could have a hidden disability or even just have had dreadful morning/day. Maybe it’s a little silly, but I think a smile and a thank you goes a long way. It’s just my way of telling them how much their simple act of giving me their seat means to me. A little positive reinforcement so that hopefully when they come across another person with a badge they will happily give up their seat again.
Wear that badge with pride! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; You have every right to a seat. Wearing the badge doesn’t make you any less able, it just means you can’t stand. Don’t let your own worries or other people’s behaviour let you think any different. If a pregnant woman or elderly person gets onboard and everyone scans the carriage to see who will get up, don’t feel pressured – You need that seat just as much as the pregnant woman or elderly person. And if anyone questions you? Sit tight and politely explain that you need the seat.
This isn’t the most exhaustive list and there will be so many situations that I haven’t covered, but I hope that these tips help you adjust to using the badge! I feel so overwhelmed with happiness TFL listened, the trial was a huge success and these little badges are being rolled out to help the daily lives of disabled people living in the capital! Of course, it’s easy to say that ‘we shouldn’t need a badge, we should speak to each other!” In an ideal world, yes, we would. But with phones, headphones, underground wifi and the general tendency of people to disconnect when they use public transport, means it’s just not a realistic expectation. These badges have already made a huge difference to my life and I really look forward to hearing about the impact they have
These badges have already made a huge difference to my life and I really look forward to hearing about the impact they have on the lives of other disabled people in due course. If you get a badge, I would love to hear about your experience using it, so do get in touch.