I have autism.
It’s an invisible disability.
I don’t look ‘Autistic’ or ‘Disabled’ but I need assistance when I travel on trains or the Underground.
While I can do some bus routes by myself, I avoid travelling at certain times because of the crowds and noise which cause anxiety, stress and sensory overload.
I need to sit down while travelling because my internal balance system doesn’t work properly and I sometimes have blackouts.
I also have difficulty with communication especially speaking to other people which means that sometimes I am non-verbal. When this happens I write things down or use assistance cards to communicate.
I decided to get a Please offer me a seat badge because I realised that it could take away the communication barrier between the wearer and the other passengers and staff that I had because of my autism.
Using the badge has made travelling less stressful for me because I don’t feel so anxious about asking someone for their seat. This is because if I need a seat, I know that the badge will make it easier for me to ask someone.
Before I started using the badge, attempting to get a seat could be difficult and sometimes impossible. Having to approach strangers to ask them if I could have their seat caused me so much anxiety!
I was always worried about how they were going to react towards me, especially because I’d had some bad reactions from other passengers. I was often told ‘You don’t look disabled’ or ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’. One person told me he was older than me so he deserved the seat more. When people were rude and aggressive it would put me off asking someone else.
Others would just ignore me completely and keep looking down at their phones, making me feel even more invisible and I felt like no one cared.
I have had a lot more positive interactions and very few negative ones since using the badge. It is easier for me to get a seat now, people see the badge and offer me a seat before I have asked them which is really lovely. I sometimes have several people offer me their seats at the same time!
I think the badge is important and can be useful for people with invisible disabilities. There is a hierarchy amongst passengers with wheelchair users and pushchairs being at the top, then those with visible signs such as sticks, canes, and glasses. Passengers with invisible disabilities are not often thought of or understood.
Passengers on the hierarchy will often give up their seats to others on the hierarchy even if they are below them. I have seen elderly passengers and a passenger on crutches move out of the priority seats next to the wheelchair space so that parents can sit next to their pushchairs. This is because when we see someone with a visible disability such as someone with crutches, a cane, a wheelchair user or an assistance dog we have an idea on what assistance we can offer them. But we don’t know what assistance we can give or is needed for people like myself. There is also a credibility barrier with invisible disabilities and in their busy lives, people are more likely to accept the credibility of a visible disability than an invisible one.
The badge acts as a communication aid between passengers. It’s not about labelling the disability, it is about providing a visual clue to other passengers so that they can offer help by giving me a seat. 👌🏽 Most passengers are willing to help if they can see how to assist me.
The badge also takes away some of the confrontations that sometimes happen when you approach someone to ask for their seat. I am less worried about asking people for their seat because if they are wearing a badge I am more likely to approach someone without the badge.
Recently people have become so focused on their screens that they are not always aware of what is happening around them. There is also the unwritten rule about not giving eye contact with anyone on the Tube. For someone with an invisible disability doing this puts another barrier in the way.
So it is really important for other passengers to look up at every stop because the person who needs a seat might not be able to communicate with or even see you.
If you are not looking up you won’t be able to see the badge.
If you are unsure about offering your seat then I would say please don’t be worried about offending anyone, offering your seat won’t cause offence. The person that you have offered your seat to may say no, but the next person might be really grateful that you offered your seat and really need it.
Find out about the Please offer me a seat badge
🔗 Visit our website to check details and order a badge
🔗 Learn about making accessible journeys on our network and tools to help
Live video streams on Instagram for Priority Seating Week
Watch the recordings of the sessions, available through YouTube.
Welcome to Priority Seating Week
Please ‘look up’ if someone needs your seat more than you
Joanna Wooten (IDAG) & Amanda Jacobs (City of London Access Group)
25 April 2022
Making travelling better for everyone
Please be patient and be considerate
Natalie Doig (IDAG) & Dr Amit Patel
28 April 2022