Seeing something and saying something

The interblags have been buzzing with talk of an amusing yet aggravating website called People Who Sit in the Disability Seats When I’m on My Crutches (and yes, that’s the website address as well, with a “.com” at the end), consisting of a collection of photos of seemingly healthy people sitting in the seats designated for handicapped, elderly and pregnant passengers on the New York City subway.  The anonymous creator of the website, who is apparently only temporarily disabled, doesn’t mention whether he ever asks any of the people he photographs if he can have their seat, but going by the pictures it appears that most of them are pretending they don’t see him, which is par for the course when riding public transportation in most major cities.

Since word about People Who Sit got out a couple days ago, the comments section of the site has exploded, with a surprising amount of hostility aimed at the bearer of the crutches.  He’s been referred to as a “whiner” and a “passive-aggressive pussy,” who should be ashamed for making people who might be suffering from an “invisible illness” that  requires the use of handicapped seating look bad.  Some have even claimed that despite wearing a cast and walking on crutches, he simply isn’t disabled enough to require special seating.  The hostility and defensiveness is puzzling–I thought it was human nature to enjoy clucking our tongues at the thoughtlessness of others and validating that we’d never do such a rude thing.  Perhaps it’s because this time it involves people doing something we’re all guilty of on occasion: being incredibly fucking lazy.

True, the guy should just save himself the trouble and ask someone if he can have a handicapped seat, but the point is that he shouldn’t have to.  The seats are labeled and placed where they are for a reason, and that reason is not so someone can stretch their legs out for a nap, have someplace to put their packages or sit there and pretend that they’re the only person on the train.  I ride the New York City subway nearly every day and I see this kind of “LA LA LA I’M THE ONLY ONE HERE LA LA LA” behavior all the time.  People who haven’t bathed since Monica Lewinsky jokes were relevant stand with their armpits shoved in other’s faces.  Men who apparently think they’re Dirk Diggler sit with their knees spread, pressing against the legs of the people around them.  Women carry purses big enough to hold a complete Thanksgiving dinner in and ignore the fact that they’re nudging others in the head with them.  Doorways, poles, straps are blocked by people who simply refuse to acknowledge that there are others in their presence, and have the manners God gave a bag of hammers.  I have a really hard time believing that everyone who ignores a disabled, handicapped or pregnant passenger who needs the use of special seating has some “invisible illness” that allows them to look and move like a perfectly healthy person.  Most of them are just lazy, and they justify it by thinking to themselves “Well, someone else will give up their seat.”  I know, because I’ve done it myself, and I have no excuses.  I was being an inconsiderate asshole, and I try to make a point of not being an inconsiderate asshole anymore.

Because undoubtedly some of you are reading this and thinking “Well, that’s New York for you,” no, it’s not just New York.  I’m a veteran of public transportation, I’ve ridden it in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Las Vegas and a number of smaller towns, and it’s pretty much the same everywhere you go.  They have the same homeless people, the same crazy people, the same people who smell like a combination of Fritos and dirty feet and most of all the same people who wouldn’t give up their seats if their grandmothers asked for them.  It’s a practical, more environmentally conscious alternative to driving everywhere, however, so you get used to it.  Nevertheless, I continue to be amazed at how people get to be grown adults and need to be reminded that you’re supposed to give up a seat for a pregnant woman.  No, it’s not a disability and yes, she chose to be in that position, but it doesn’t change the fact that she needs that seat more than you, dickweed.  The old lady hobbling around with a walker needs the seat more than you do.  The guy balancing himself on one leg while standing on crutches needs the seat more than you, let’s not get into some sort of undignified cripple fight over who can’t stand for longer periods of time.  Passive-aggressive or not, people deserve to be called out on their rudeness.  Embarrassment is a powerful tool to encourage grownups to act like grownups.

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3 Responses to “Seeing something and saying something”

  1. When I was a teenager, I had a brief period of temporary physical impairment where I had to use a cane to get around. I lost track of the number of times people would rudely demand my seat, apparently seeing the dyed hair and youth and not the cane, and presuming I was fully able bodied.

  2. I just got back from San Francisco, where several people gave me their seats when they saw I was toting a baby and a stroller and all the associated accoutrements. It’s even happened to me here in Atlanta, when I was visibly pregnant. So some people aren’t no-damn-good.

    OTOH, I now have a much greater sympathy for wheelchair-bound people when it comes to the availability of ramps and elevators. You should have *seen* how far I had to go to find an elevator at Powell Street Station. And the 2-level Victoria’s Secret on Powell St. had an elevator–with two stairs leading up to it. I kid you not.

  3. I’ve been relatively lucky. Mostly, I don’t ask for the disabled seating because though I’m totally blind, that isn’t the same thing to me as being pregnant, on crutches, or, you know, actually having a disability that requires one to need to make use of those seats. But the reaction I get is that other people get rude on my behalf whether I want it or not and demand people give up their seats for me. I don’t know why this is, but I always feel like I need to apologize to whoever had to move on my behalf because some asshole thought, “Oh. White cane. She’s crippled. Let’s make sure–loudly–that she gets a seat.”

    Of course, I also really hate the disabled seating anyway, and people are often equally weirded out when I ask if seats in the back of the bus are free. Maybe they think blindness is catching?

    But then, I live in a backwards part of the country where we’re only now getting around to realizing that, hey, public transportation would be an awesome thing, so I don’t believe at all that my experience is all that typical.

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