The Wheelchair User and the Big Baby Buggy

Baroness Deech

I have written earlier about the House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act and Disability – and – and concluded that one cannot overestimate the lack of compassion, or just indifference, on the part of some members of the public towards disabled people.  The Supreme Court judgment in FirstGroup plc v Paulley, given on 18 January sets out the simple story of what happened when Mr Paulley, a veteran campaigner for disability rights, tried to get on a bus in February 2012. (Yes, it has taken nearly 5 years to get this sorted, and I dread to think what the legal costs were . . .) When the bus drew up to the stop where he was waiting, it transpired that a mother with a baby asleep in a buggy was in the wheelchair space. She said the buggy did not fold down (really?). It was no doubt enormous, as they all seem to be today – when I was younger a buggy folded up with one kick into something not much bigger than an umbrella. She refused to move from the designated wheelchair space.  She was reportedly chatting on her mobile as the request was made – Vicky Pollard incarnate! Mr Paulley had to wait for the next bus and missed all his connections.

His claim for discrimination against the bus company raised the interesting question of priorities.  The judgment was nuanced, but not altogether clear because there were dissenting judgments that were more strongly in favour of someone in Mr Paulley’s position than the majority were.  The overall conclusion, taking into account the realities of the bus driver who is faced with intransigence, was that the company should train its drivers to make stronger representations to the non-disabled passenger occupying the wheelchair space to get them to move, and if need be stop the bus for a little while to add to the pressure on them to do the decent thing. The minority of judges, with whom I am inclined to agree, thought that there should be a law requiring the non-disabled passenger to move, unless of course they too were vulnerable, e.g. elderly with a stick or in some way equally needy. It was thought that if the priority of the wheelchair user was expressed more forcefully, by signs on the bus, or by the driver, the occupier was more likely to move.

A sad story, as one can well foresee that the same sort of clash is likely to keep happening until everyone comes to realise the difficulties of disabled persons’ travel (plenty of reports in the press recently about unhelpful trains) and empathises. Disabled persons have a right to travel and to non-discrimination and it is incumbent on all of us to respect and facilitate that.  It could be you one day.



11 comments for “The Wheelchair User and the Big Baby Buggy

  1. 19/01/2017 at 5:41 pm

    We are a a split and failing English-Civilisation: the Authorities have “sped ahead” in weaponry, bio-environmental-mass-slaughter, and technological non-renewable-lifesupports-destructive logistics (fuels and minerals from under-ground ,
    but have dominantly and utterly lagged behind in both keeping their-selves up-to-date in “Lifeplace” Knowledge and Know-Howand in likewise keeping The People up-to-date in that same Lifeplace Knowledge and Know-How.
    Because of {as a ‘class’ Establishmentarian and Parliamentary – ‘your’) Lifeplace, Workplace, and Governmental,
    unfitnesses-for-longest-term Purpose, and shorter-term failures, the majority public, as well as the more numerous minorities, remains, and daresay ‘languishes’,
    also “unfit-for-longest-term AND shortest-term purposes”.
    Even for just one brief moment being both formally logical and morally reasonable:
    [“] If any of the People are “wrong”, “lacking”, “to blame”, “not-fit-for-purpose”, “and so on ad nauseam”,
    then it is primarily-and-continuingly the Governmental Authorities that have made them and are keeping them that way …[“].
    “It could be you one day” you conclude.
    It already is “you one day” –
    in effect it is the “hidden truth”
    both overshadowing and underlurking our Failing-Civilisation-Predicament with its
    (your fellow Establishment’s and Governmentals’) catch-cry of
    “We Are All In This Together”.

  2. Croft
    23/01/2017 at 11:57 am

    “The judgment was nuanced, but not altogether clear because there were dissenting judgments that were more strongly in favour of someone in Mr Paulley’s position than the majority were. ”

    The judgement was woolly and either likely to have no effect or provoke conflict. Albeit from the press summery but seriously read and weep!

    “However, it was not enough for FirstGroup to instruct its drivers
    simply to request non-wheelchair users to vacate the space and do nothing further if the request was rejected. The approach of the driver must depend upon the circumstances, but where he or she concludes that the refusal is unreasonable, some further step to pressurise the non-wheelchair user to move should be considered, such as
    rephrasing the request as a requirement
    (especially where the non-wheelchair user could move elsewhere in the bus)
    or even a refusal to drive on for several minutes [67]

    • 30/01/2017 at 11:41 pm

      Let us hope that the recommendations the justices made for primary legislation to make this entirely clear are heeded by the Government in the current Bus Services Bill.

  3. Rose Stephenson
    31/01/2017 at 7:59 pm

    The whole failure of the system in regards to disabled access, whether to transport , buildings or services stems from the Governments refusal to enforce the act which was supposed to ensure just that. The left it instead to individual disabled people to take failing companies and institutions to court to enforce said access. Sadly, not everyone is as able or as determined as Mr Paulley and so there has been little or no progress over the decades since the first incarnation of the act. Until the government gets off its fat-cat, complacent, compassion-less, collective ass and enforces legislation to ensure fair and equal access for all Nothing will change and discrimination will remain enshrined in the public consciousness as ‘ok’.

  4. 31/01/2017 at 11:03 pm

    I wonder if there’s also an element in such cases of assuming that the disabled person has all the time in the world because they’ve got nowhere they need to be. I’ve noticed this in other contexts (such as an unemployed friend’s experience with government agencies, who assumed he had nothing to do all day except wait in their offices), and I think there is a huge amount of disrespect for people’s *time* when they’re perceived as less functional, shall we say. Of course, this sort of prejudice used to be directed at women, too…


  5. Sarah
    01/02/2017 at 12:40 am

    Appalling demonisation of the mother in this article.

    • 02/02/2017 at 8:10 am

      Yes; however that is indeed the impression the mother gave! She was just selfish and couldn’t be bothered. I’m not saying all mothers are, or all parents, or all people who refuse to move – but that was definitely the impression she gave. She couldn’t be bothered to engage, let alone anything involving the slightest effort.

  6. 02/02/2017 at 5:19 am

    Social Mobility

    Where now is Britain’s world-exemplary “monarchicly democratic rule-of-law”
    and where “English as the world’s leading language and “culture” ?

    Has Britain ever successfully “ruled” ? Has Britain ever really ruled “the Waves”?
    “When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte, as every child can tell –
    The House of Peers throughout the war,
    Did nothing in particular-
    And did it very well – ”
    So could the baroness explain what is, or should be, meant by the official intellectual term which she also holds personally and professionally dear –
    “social mobility” ?

    and key-relevantly too, could she also tell us how the God-created Need and Right for all-round individual-human-movement is defined, worded, constituted, legislated, and “guaranteed [enforced where necessary] by Law” ?

  7. 02/02/2017 at 8:14 am

    Clogging the corridor train-aisle and bankpram
    It’s almost the size of a light-armoured tank
    The owner is therefore inclined to pull rank
    “Do’you know I am?”
    Fat pram, fat pram.

    Wheelchair give way
    Don’t you dare make a fuss
    Mum and her precious are taking the bus
    The baby on board must be supersize-plus
    Weight of a freighter of ham – fat pram

    In gentle, less-manic and sweet days of yore.
    Pushchairs collapsed or were left by the door
    Not in the shop taking up the whole floor
    Causing a jam
    Fat pram, fat pram

    “Yes, it folds down!” – to the width of a cow –
    But she hasn’t got time to be doing that now.
    With shopping and tweeting to manage somehow
    She won’t give a flying…
    Fat pram.

    Martin Newell, “Sunday Express” 14/12/14

  8. maude elwes
    03/02/2017 at 1:26 pm

    I do wonder why my poignant post ended up in the sin bin. Odd that.

    It swallowed up the moment I pressed submit.

    • 08/02/2017 at 12:24 am

      Sometimes my fate too.
      We need to select-all and copy to Word first, eh ?

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