A Seat Of My Own

Over the past year and a half, as my walking embarked on a bit of a downward spiral, I found a new “best friend:” handicapped seating on the subway. Finally, a place to call home in a crowded sardine can lurching along a bumpy ride. As long as I’m not displacing someone in need, I avidly claim my perch.

7255289_sTo my surprise, I’m frequently met with a recalcitrant rider reluctant to surrender their seat until discerning the precise nature of my disability. Even when I offer my legally unnecessary explanation, many a New Yorker either doubt my word or dispute my claim in groundless defiance of city ordinance. Then again, my fellow residents aren’t known for their manners let alone random acts of kindness. Seems utterly beside the point that the law’s on my side.

While I understand subway seats are zealously guarded parcels of New York City real estate, I had no idea sitting activism extended to the handicapped zone. Here’s a taste of the empathetic responses I tend to receive: you’re not pregnant, what’s your disability- that you don’t want to stand, no hablo Ingles (when I point to the bilingual sign, they suddenly lack reading comprehension).

Ultimately, I overcome this appalling behavior by morphing into a human bulldozer bludgeoning obstacles in my path. If necessary, I’ll make an example of gross misconduct or appeal to not-so-innocent bystanders when I’m getting nowhere with the offending criminal. I’ve also utilized these quintessential New York City moments as PR opportunities, handing one “gentleman” an index card urging him to “Go online, Google Dystonia, then spread awareness” though he didn’t quite get the point. Guess the subway isn’t the best venue for a personal publicity campaign!

So let’s review the basics of human etiquette: offer someone old or disabled your seat whether in the handicapped locale or not; stand up for fellow citizens who are getting the raw end of the stick; and never consider yourself in too much of a rush to assist someone in need.

24 responses to “A Seat Of My Own

  1. Paula schneider

    Good point Pam! one again you are “write” on!

    • Hey Paula, Thought this was an important post to make. Sadly, the referenced remarks are all too true. I started taking notes on the subway to make sure I got my quotes right (lol)! -Pam-

  2. Dear Pam,

    My utmost understanding of your problem…….My walking is my worst issue and can be very frustrating. I admire your determination and wish it would get better…..so as you say, humor is the best way to deal with it……..I wish i could think of some humor with this, but honestly can’t!!!!! I love your cartoon pictures…….do you draw them?

    luv, iris

    Sent from my iPad

    • Hi Iris, I actually buy the pics from a stock photography site. I’m quite fussy finding that right photo for each post! Although my walking can be a pain in the neck, I’d have to say my speech is the most frustrating aspect of my Dystonia. As for the subway, the behavior of my fellow riders can be maddening but I try to find the humor in their utter lack of empathy. -Pamela-

  3. early on in my downhill journey I travelled on the train everyday to work (I could work then). I found that a walking cane became a good friend. Apparently in the mind of many if you lurch around and you have a cane you have a disability if you lurch around without a cane you don’t! It didn’t seem to matter what you actually used the cane for.

    • Hello Margo, Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. People who think disability need be visible couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many individuals are disabled and you wouldn’t know a thing is wrong. What’s so ironic is that my Dystonia is completely noticeable, just not when I’m standing still or pushing my way through a crowded subway (lol)! The worst part is that it wasn’t easy for me to request a handicapped seat at first – I hated announcing my need – and I imagine others must feel the same. Now I’ve adjusted my expectations. Good to hear your story about finding a friend in a cane. I’ve learned it’s so important to take those critical steps, large and small, that make our lives easier. Take care. -Pamela-

  4. angela harshbarger

    I totally agree. People can be rude everywhere. Not just NYC.

    • Angela, Can people ever be rude and the disabled certainly seem to receive their undeserved share of insensitive comments. What we need to understand is that it’s not about us but them. Unfortunately, rudeness is often born of ignorance, certain people believe blaring sirens announce disability when that is simply not the case…or they just don’t get our struggles or are too self-absorbed to see them. I can handle anything that comes my way but not everyone is so thick-skinned, nor should they have to be…though it certainly comes in handy. Hopefully, educating people about chronic health conditions will help to build compassion and empathy. -Pam-

  5. What another great though-provoking post, and shows the need for everyone whether young or old to stop and think when seeing someone who may need to use such assistance in public tranport amenities. I know that when I was younger, and mobility was not as bad as it now is, I always gave my seat for an elderly person or someone who I thought needed the seat more than myself…it’s something that my parents instilled in me. Nowadays, due to the inability to stand for long I no longer can use public transport but I would like to think that someone would give their seat up for me. I think a problem is that, people assume that illness and disability is something that is recognisable and visible, but as many of us knowm it is not always the case, and there are plenty of conditions which are invisible, especially many neurological conditions. That is why you are doing such important work with the blog in raising awareness of a condition which many people usually have no knowledge or experience of.

    • Rhiann, Always a pleasure to hear from you and gain some of your insight and wisdom. What I’ll call “active compassion” is a trait that certainly needs to be preached! The disabled and ill have enough obstacles in their days without having to deal with self-absorbed individuals who can’t see beyond their own noses. When someone asks for assistance or accommodation, basic human decency dictates our compliance whether we understand the request or not. Some disabilities are visible, others are “hidden,” and certain people are uncomfortable announcing themselves in public venues. No need to add to someone’s discomfort or darken their day. Our blogs our so important in sensitizing others to the daily realities of our health conditions. Keep up your stellar advocacy educating the world about life with a brain lesion at http://brainlesionandme.wordpress.com/. Take care. -Pam-

  6. Hey Pam,
    I can totally relate. It has taken me many years to accept a handicapped placard & I’ve recently started using a walker. I can’t believe how much kinder & more helpful strangers are when they see me with the walker as opposed to the chick that walks like she’s drunk all the time! I love your blog!

    • Hi Becky, Welcome to my little community and thank you for reading. It’s funny, growing up I never really thought of myself as handicapped. Availaing myself of disability seating wasn’t in my lexicon until the past few years when I realized I actually “qualified” (lol)! Wasn’t easy asking at first and of course a real shocker when people began butting heads with me over the handicapped seats. In my view, compassion shouldn’t be so hard to practice. Thanks for sharing your own experience. Hopefully, the walker is making your life easier. -Pam-

  7. Pam, you have described it very appropriately.
    Also here in Germany the people think that one is hindered if one sees it. The people to whom one does not look that they are hindered (like me) they are smiled if one demands the disabled person’s seat.
    Not only in NYC, also in all cities it is fine in such a way that leute so think so badly.
    However, nevertheless, there are still many people who are very obliging before all things also young people.

    Completely lots of love over the pond


    Pam, Du hast es sehr treffend beschrieben.
    Auch hier in Deutschland meinen die Leute, dass man behindert ist, wenn man es sieht. Leute, denen man es nicht ansieht, dass sie behindert sind (wie ich), die werden belächelt, wenn man den Behindertensitz fordert.
    Nicht nur in NYC,auch in allen Großstädten ist es wohl so, dass die leute so denken so schlecht.
    Trotzdem gibt es aber noch viele Leute, die sehr zuvorkommend sind vor allen Dingen auch junge Leute.

    • Franz, Wonderful to hear from you my good friend and how lovely for you to share your experience in Germany. Seems many human beings have a ways to go no matter the country. People need to judge a bit less and simply accommodate because we can’t always know another person’s situation. I’d never even think to doubt the word of someone requesting handicapped seating, but then I was raised by parents who taught me to do the right thing and I’ve had a different life experience. I know the pain that can be felt when we must ask for help. Often, what others fail to understand is that we don’t WANT those special seats, we NEED them. Take care and keep in touch. -Pamela-

  8. I totally understand, I too have trouble on the subway. I have be very aggressive with my approach to getting a seat. I fortunately can stand for my ride home if I have to. But I always offer my seat to another disabled person, elderly person , pregnant lady or mom with small children. Life is better when you pay it forward. Love your blogs

    • Hey Valerie, Always nice to hear from you. Like you, I’m the first one to give up my seat for someone who is elderly or in greater need than me. Wish everyone could practice such simple courtesies. I hear stories from people who have highly visible issues and are met with annoyance on public transportation, just astounding. Glad to hear you’re enjoying my posts, I love writing them! -Pam-

  9. Good job . Some people will never understand unless they walk a mile in our shoes.

    • Hey Donald, Good to hear from you again. Well, you’ve hit upon one of the reasons I started my blog! I wanted to build awareness and understanding to help people experience empathy. Certain individuals on the subway simply think I want their seat when they couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I was reluctant at first to announce myself. I know there are people who are hesitant to assert their need or certainly won’t push if they meet resistance; that’s horrible, it’s horrible that anyone with a disability should encounter such unnecessary obstacles when they have more than their share of daily challenges. -Pamela-

  10. And the Global Gateway is gone off my website.

    Thinking of you and hoping you’re feeling better.

    Love as always Pam.

    • Paddy, Lovely to see you reading and I must thank you for the link to my blog on your website. As you know, I’m dedicated to advancing Dystonia activism and addressing misperceptions about disability. With a collective voice, we stand strong! -Pam-

  11. “I had no idea sitting activism extended to the handicapped zone. ”

    TRUTH! They better hope the two of us never sit on that bus together. hahah.

    • Marissa, What a joy to hear from my soul sis! Without a doubt, we’d make our mark on the bus (lol)! I’ll bring the index cards to document our travails and perhaps conduct some on the spot movement disorder and vestibular education. Keep up the great work with your blog and upcoming podcast. NYC subway riders would certainly benefit from a date with Abledis! Love Ya, Pam

  12. Pam~~good for you taking up for yourself. I wish people would just be nicer in general. You are far braver than I–this NC mountain girl (relocated to the Big City of Charlotte) would never & I repeat never attempt riding a subway in NYC. I might however — only if someone is with me — attempt riding the Charlotte transit system at some point in time. …anyway….girl you keep on taking your seat. If those people only knew when they were questioning your actual legitimate right to having that seat, that they were playing with fire I am sure they would hand the seat over no questions asked!*!*!*!

    • Hello Linda, Lovely to see you here. Each of us has our own unique style. I’m someone who doesn’t mind transforming into a “Public Service Announcement” for handicapped seating, an advertisement many sorely need! If you’re ever in NYC, we can always ride the subway together. You just may find that New Yorkers’ barks are worse than their bites. -Pamela-

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