Since I never had an injury that incapacitated me before, crutches took me quite a while to get used to. I had just started my first year in Trinity College and only two days on crutches had me thinking that the college’s choice of cobblestones over ordinary, flat ground was cosmetic and not a practical one.
Two weeks later, I had become more adjusted to my temporary life as a mobile tripod (one leg, two crutches). It was around then the knowledge that my state was temporary ceased to be of comfort to me and I began to realise the struggles that people with permanent physical disabilities deal with every day.
But it wasn’t the physical difficulty that was the biggest shock to me. Although getting around on crutches can be difficult and awkward, Iarnróid Éireann had plenty of facilities for the disabled, such as ramps and lifts.
The Dublin train line is generally chaotic in the weekday mornings and evenings, closely resembling the infamously packed metro train in Japan. It is on these trains where things, and people, can get ugly.
The majority of people on these trains in the evening are after a long, stressful day at work and the thought of standing on the train home is in no way appealing to them.
But before I delve into some everyday displays of ignorance, I want to make it clear that these attitudes were not all directed at me, but at people that were in similar difficulties as I was at the time, and were possibly in need of a seat more so than me. I was only in a temporary state so I never really felt that it was my place to complain about not getting a seat, though a seat would have been nice after a day of what felt more like intense climbing than a few sociology lectures.
There were certain things while getting the train that I learned not to expect, the main one being someone offering you their seat, which happened only twice in my 62 journeys on the train during my month and a half on two crutches.
In a lot of cases, it wasn’t just that people refused to give me their seat; if I had asked I’m sure they would have obliged. It was when people wrestled their way on to occupy all of these seats in a matter seconds, it rarely occurred to them to look around and see if there was someone in more need of a seat than themselves.
It was a “head down, you’ve got your seat” type of mentality that prevailed on these train journeys. When I asked some people on the train what they thought of the finders-keepers attitude displayed by a lot of people on the train during peak times, one response I received from a young woman from Portmarnock was “it’s terrible, but there’s not much you can do about it; no one wants to stand for over half an hour after a day at work.”
A student from Skerries remarked “most people on trains keep to themselves, it’s a reserved sort of atmosphere. A lot of people don’t ask for seats and a lot of people don’t offer them.”
One of the most personally shocking moments of ignorance occurred one evening in November. The train door had stopped right in front of me, meaning I’d be one of the first on. As I made my way onto the empty carriage where most people would probably get a seat as it was an earlier train than usual, a middle aged woman behind me, accompanied by her friends, thought it was necessary to reach the aisle of empty seats before I did.
As she tried to pass, she kicked one of my crutches, causing her to trip and me to lose my balance. When she turned around and looked like she was about to give out to me , she soon realised what she had just kicked and apologised, before resuming her mission to get to the four-seater section of the carriage before anyone else did so she and her friends could sit together.
Instead of telling her what I thought of her, I took my seat and left it at that. Being on crutches taught me some patience and tolerance in these situations, qualities which I probably was lacking in before my injury.
Of course, these personal incidents were minor considering I had only a temporary injury.
It was what I saw in relation to pregnant women that truly incensed me. In the month and a half or so that I was on crutches, I witnessed three separate women stand for over half an hour journeys, all of whom were heavily pregnant. These women were in clear view of those with seats, yet not one gesture of good will was made.
Surely this was going beyond ignorance and taking people’s aloofness and apparent ease at seeing others in discomfort, and doing nothing about it, to a new level.
If the train was seen as a social study, and all these people’s actions and inactions were the focus of the study, wouldn’t instances such as leaving a heavily pregnant woman to stand on a train full of mostly healthy, able-bodied people be seen as almost an act of cruelty a much as ignorance? Their inactions in themselves were as bad as refusing someone a seat.
As for the elderly, they were treated in a similar manner. More often than not I was standing beside an elderly person on the train. The good thing about a lot of the elderly people that I encountered on the train was their direct, “no bullshit” attitude. They would get onto the train and ask someone for their seat immediately, and politely of course.
People of virtue were of few and far between on this form of public transport, though most people would probably claim that they would give their seat away if they were ever in such a situation. I was just unaware of these aspects of train journeys as anyone else before I had my injury so in a way, at the danger of sounding a bit epiphanic, the injury was a blessing as much as it was most definitely a curse.
Most Irish railway stations have shelters, (some seating areas thought probably not enough) and a mini-ramp which an employee of Iarnróid Éireann attaches to the train to let people in wheelchairs on and off the train. Although the mini-ramp doesn’t sound like the most efficient piece of equipment, it is certainly better than nothing.
Iarnróid Éireann are improving its means of facilitating those with physical disabilities; I suggest we passengers should try and do the same.