It’s a warm day. The bus area at Glen Waverley seems quieter than usual. Well quieter in terms of pedestrian traffic. The ambient sounds of bus engines, a few crows and the distant sound of platform announcements from the station fill the air. A woman at my bus bay sits in the shelter by herself. She starts signing. First I can’t work out what it is but then realise it’s Silent Night. She’s kind of loud and slightly off key. She sees me and asks if I want to sit down. I politely decline. She springs to her feet as the bus pulls in. An external announcement says ‘this is the route 902 – service to Airport West’. As much as I complain about buses, I do have to say that an external announcement telling you which route it is is extremely helpful. Why trams and trains can’t employ this technology is a mystery to me.
We enter the bus. Silent Night Woman runs to the door and bounces onto the bus – exclaiming ‘yes I get the front seat!’ as she sits down looking very pleased with herself. I walk down the aisle and some dude sees my cane. He jumps out of his seat, without a word, moving quickly down to the back of the bus like a frightened sparrow. A woman exclaims ‘THERE’S A SEAT THERE!’ in a loud, slowed down voice, as the bus pulls out from the curb and commences the next leg of its journey.
An internal automated announcement informs us that ‘the next stop is The Glen Shopping Centre’ but seriously you’d need hearing aids with a decent amount of amplification to hear that.
Some bus drivers seem to not be able to speak at all, others seem to over-compensate barking things like ‘BE SEATED’ as you enter the bus – spoken in a tone of voice that a parent might use on a small child. I don’t actually need to seat down. Or have things spelt out to me loudly and slowly. It’s like people think vision impairment is a physical and intellectual disability. Like most people, if I stand, I hold onto something or lean against something.
I have also experienced people physically grabbing you, often without communication, pulling you towards that seat you apparently need. Or informing others that ‘he needs to sit down’. Like they have bad news to impart upon me.
Someone sent me a message about my Inappropriate Bus Behaviour post – as a fellow person with a vision impairment, he’d thought we – as a society – would have improved over the years. But that this is sadly not the case.
I’m going to finish with two more bus driver quotes. One was at the stop outside where I work. There are three different routes that go past here, so until a bus pulls up, you don’t always know if it’s yours. I saw a bus, flagged him down, then realised it wasn’t mine. I apologised and thanked him for stopping. He says ‘thanks for making me stop when I didn’t have to.’ – I pointed out that I have a vision impairment. Really, if I could see enough to read those bus numbers, I’d probably be driving to work.
The last one for this post was a bus I’d caught into the city – to meet colleagues from a previous job. As we approached my stop, I stood up and approached the door. I’d think fairly normal bus catching behaviour. The driver opens his window and exclaims ‘MATE, SIT DOWN, IF I SLAM ON THE BRAKES YOU’LL GO THROUGH THE WINDSCREEN!’ – well if you have to ‘slam on the brakes’ maybe you shouldn’t be driving a bus. I didn’t actually say that though, I just ignored him.
Vision impairment doesn’t affect common sense.
My trip in to work is quite long, it involves a 15 minute walk, a 20 minute train trip and a 25-30 minute bus ride. But I knew that when I took the job on – and like most public transport users, I am also very aware of what happens when your modes of transport don’t line up and how that can make the trip even longer. Extra time spent standing on a platform or at a bus stop, awaiting the commencement of the next leg of your journey into the office. To be fair, the trip generally is fairly smooth. Though I would like to still reserve the right to complain about it – especially in those cold winter months.
You get to see familiar faces on the train and bus each day. The same people going to the same places, sitting in the same seats, it almost feels like you know them – except you don’t.
There are small odd things that happen regularly. Like a person who moves to another seat when you sit next to them. It’s quite rude really when you think about it. I mean I definitely showered today! And I’m not sure that vision impairment is contagious.
Occasional seat offers, people grabbing you without speaking, people discussing your requirements with each other when you are clearly within earshot. It is a stand up comedy routine just waiting to happen.
Recently on my trip to work – I was running for a bus. It had already arrived and was sitting at the stop. My train had arrived late that day. Anyone familiar with bus bays will know that the gutter line isn’t straight, it curves in and out so buses can park in a line on slight angles. Some engineering student probably got a HD for that idea. Navigating along this gutter line can be a challenge. I’m running, cautiously, so I don’t step off, but getting enough speed so I don’t miss the bus – you know the old saying ‘time, tide and bus drivers do not wait’.
I jump on the bus just as it’s about to pull out and I can feel a sense of relief. Which is quickly silenced by a massive amount of laughter I hear from beside me. A group of teenage girls from a local Catholic school think that I clearly looked funny. They laugh and point and giggle to themselves. One of them pulls out her phone, points it at me and snaps a photo. A happy snap to preserve for eternity. Or at least for her Snapchat followers. ‘That weird guy with a. disability who ran for the bus, looks so stupid!’ – she uploads it to Snapchat and shares her handle with a stranger on the bus who is also laughing. She even spells it out to him twice so he has it correct. He eventually stops laughing and says to one of the girls ‘it’s not that funny!’ – perhaps a wave of guilt has passed over him?
The girls go on laughing, eventually they get off at their stop and the bus returns to its usual silent state, disturbed occasionally by a ‘the next stop is’ announcement.
And I am left to wonder what ever became of that photo?
It’s a new age of trial by social media. Once upon a time, that moment would have perhaps caused a few laughs that might have lasted 2-3 bus stops. But now, it results in a photo, a status update, shares and likes and a thread of responses that you maybe don’t want to think too much about.
I could insert a rant here about community attitudes towards people who look different. I could go on about inappropriate use of social media. Teenagers have behaved like this since the dawn of time, they just have different stages and platforms now than what they used to have.
In my opinion, the biggest issue here is education. How we are taught at home and at school.
I’d been working in the CBD – I love the city, the atmosphere, the fact that decent coffee is close at hand and I love the atmosphere on the street. Buskers playing their songs, people just going about their business. The homeless guy on the corner selling copies of The Big Issue.
It’s a 45 minute tram ride home and there are 10 different tram routes along Swanston St in Melbourne, so figuring out which tram is yours isn’t always a smooth process. But luckily I have an iPhone app that can at least narrow down the process. It shows a wheelchair symbol for low floor trams. And occasionally 2 out of the 10 routes might have a low floor tram so that means there’s a 1 in 2 chance of you getting the right tram.
So I hop on my tram. It’s quite crowded. I put my backpack at my feet and fold up my cane. I grab on to a nearby pole – standing without leaning or holding onto something can present challenges as the tram lurches forward and back.
Minding my own business, thinking about the day at work and what I might do for dinner – I hear a woman’s voice off in the distance. ‘I AM DISGUSTED!’ she exclaims. I feel a cringe coming over me as her voice gets louder. She is approaching where I am standing and repeating those same words over and over for all to hear. ‘I AM DISGUSTED!’. She gets to me and exclaims ‘NOONE HAS OFFERED YOU A SEAT!’. I am always confused by this. This assumption that you need to be sitting down because you have a vision impairment. I don’t have any issues with my legs. Or physical strength. Or balance. But she continues. ‘That girl there, on her iPad, she should offer you a seat! That man there on his phone, he could stand up!’. She goes on, pointing out unsuspecting fellow commuters for this seat crime that they had committed.
I had a bus driver once who exclaimed ‘SIT DOWN PLEASE’ when I got on a bus. Did he have some bad news to tell me that I needed to sit down for?