Who’s really disabled – the wheelchair user or the person who abuses them?

I sometimes despair at what society is becoming when I see the kind of story I read in today’s Times and Telegraph about the levels of abuse which disabled people regularly encounter when using public transport.

These include an instance where the head of the disability charity Scope, herself a wheelchair user, was shouted at to “get the f*** out of here” by a man in front of his daughter of about five when asked to give up a seat on a train intended for those with disabilities. Seriously? I know we all have our bad moments, but does anything forgive abusive behaviour like this? Would that father like his daughter to grow up with those values? I doubt it.

And it’s not just fellow passengers who dish out the abuse. 31% of disabled people say they have been abused by bus drivers, and 25% by rail staff. In total, 47% of disabled people face some sort of discrimination on their way to and from work. Imagine someone cutting in front of you in a queue and then telling you to “f*** off” when challenged. It’s not exactly pleasant.

What excuse is there for this? Do disabled people sometimes require more assistance or space than an able-bodied counterpart? Of course they do. Do they enjoy the fact that travelling is consequently more difficult for them and that they sometimes need to be accommodated? Of course not. People do not choose to be disabled so they can take advantage of a seat by the train carriage doors, or a parking space close to a shop entrance. (Those lazy morons who take disabled spaces for their own convenience are another bug-bear of mine. I’d like to punish them by towing their vehicle to the furthest corner of the car park and then letting all the air out of their tyres.)

Maybe I’m old-fashioned in that I don’t believe I should even wait to be asked before offering my seat to someone who clearly needs it more than I do. At the very least, you would think that any right-minded individual would do so when asked.

This isn’t about treating disabled people specially. In my experience, most of the disabled people I have known have no desire to be treated as such. They want only to be able to live their lives just like the next person, but their disability means they may require some help to do so.

Really, it’s not about recognising the needs of a ‘disabled person’, merely extending a basic courtesy to someone who requires assistance. It doesn’t matter whether it is a man in a wheelchair or a heavily pregnant woman. See the need, not the label attached to the person who has the need, and act accordingly. Is that really beyond so many people these days?

At a time when people are talking about internet access as a basic human right, surely the ability to travel to work or the shops or simply for leisure should also be regarded as an equally fundamental privilege? But how can it be when disabled people are made to feel somehow inferior or bullied to the point that some become fearful at the thought of catching a bus or a train?

Seriously, who are the disabled ones here?