‘Am I hindering others?’: The fears and anxieties of taking the bus after becoming a wheelchair user

SINGAPORE: Waiting for the bus could make Mr Mikail Wong really feel anxious. 

The 44-year-old turned a wheelchair user as a consequence of a spinal harm two years in the past, and generally thinks he’s “a bit troublesome” to different commuters. 

“When I’m going to take the bus, other commuters might look at me. I feel paiseh (embarrassed in Hokkien) … Am I hindering others? Am I causing trouble to them? Luckily we wear masks. If no mask, even more paiseh,” he shared with CNA. 

Rainy days have been the biggest problem so far, as Mr Wong must map out one other path to his vacation spot.

“Those places that we go are quite regular, but for new places … we don’t know whether there’s shelter along the way or whether there’s a slope or ramp. I might need to go a longer distance to the next slope or ramp, and get wet in the rain,” he stated. 

Then there was the time a bus captain unintentionally dropped the wheelchair ramp whereas decreasing it throughout a wet day – splashing rainwater throughout Mr Wong.  

As Mr Wong recounted the incident throughout a public bus confidence course collectively carried out by SPD (a native charity that serves folks with disabilities) and transport operator Tower Transit Singapore, he laughed it off. But his frustration was evident. 

The course, which is free and open to the public, was launched final 12 months to assist folks with mobility challenges regain their confidence in travelling on public buses. 

With the current push for Singapore’s public transport to be extra inclusive throughout the Ministry of Transport’s Committee of Supply debate in March, such programs may play a extra important position.

Course contributors discover ways to board and alight from a bus safely. Importantly, the psychological impression of buying a incapacity and becoming a wheelchair user, particularly as an grownup, isn’t glossed over.

FEAR AROUND USING A WHEELCHAIR RAMP 

The unassuming wheelchair ramp presents a distinctive nervousness for brand spanking new wheelchair customers. The method that a bus captain handles the ramp, reminiscent of with Mr Wong, can bitter a wheelchair user’s temper for the relaxation of the day. 

“When the bus captain just drops the ramp, it may trigger certain feelings in the wheelchair user, because you might feel like you’re causing them extra trouble. You might wonder: ‘Did I do anything wrong that you have to treat me like that?’” stated the course’s facilitator Kishon Chong. 

The jarring bang of the ramp in opposition to gravel has a “psychological impact” on the wheelchair user, as “it communicates to the user that they’re not welcome on the bus”, he defined. 

Mr Chong, 30, speaks from expertise. Four years in the past, he turned a wheelchair user after he suffered a spinal stroke.

He felt “numbness” in his legs one morning earlier than work. Within quarter-hour, the numbness unfold. He misplaced management of his legs and collapsed, and needed to be rushed to the hospital. After he was discharged, he spent the subsequent two-and-a-half years unemployed to deal with intensive rehabilitation.

As the course facilitator, Mr Chong expresses empathy about the “fear” round the bus ramp. Navigating the ramp efficiently is “a very, very large part of confidence” because it might sound daunting. 

For occasion, if the wheelchair’s caster wheels (entrance wheels) get caught at the edge of the ramp, the wheelchair user may really feel like “they’ve been thrown off the wheelchair”. 

“That’s something that has caused much anxiety in many wheelchair users. I even have friends that have stopped taking buses entirely because of that particular reason,” he stated. 

“Asking for help is also something people might feel self-conscious about. They might think back (to before they had a disability) and wonder: ‘I didn’t even need to ask for help for anything. Why do I need to ask for help now?’” 

While their issues are “valid”, wheelchair customers have “equal rights to board the bus”, Mr Chong reminded course contributors throughout a session CNA attended. 

“Please do not feel embarrassed. And if the wheelchair ramp is too steep, tell (the driver). It’s part of their job. Don’t feel like you’re troubling them. It’s better that they know what you need help with – better for both the commuter and bus captain,” he stated. 

“We want to show (course participants) that our bus captains are trained to assist with boarding safely. On top of that, we allow participants to practise with the ramp itself, so that they get more used to what to expect when they go out on the ground.”

ANXIETY AROUND HOLDING UP THE QUEUE 

Due to needing help with the ramp, holding up the line can be a fixed nervousness for brand spanking new wheelchair customers. 

When Mr Chong began utilizing a wheelchair, he would be part of the common bus queue, unaware that there was a precedence queue. He’d additionally fear that he was holding up the line – one thing he was by no means self-conscious about earlier than becoming a wheelchair user. 

“From queuing together in the line with everyone else, right now if you’re a wheelchair user, you have to queue separately where there’s higher visibility for you to flag the bus down,” he stated. 

“And there’s the realisation that because of the process of having to board the wheelchair user first, you might think: ‘I’m holding up people’s time because everyone has to wait for me to board first, and the bus captain has to do an additional job to deploy the ramp and help me with boarding.’ … It’s something that pretty much everyone will experience if you have an acquired disability.” 

But these emotions are one thing Mr Chong hopes to assist wheelchair customers transfer on from. 

“The only way to overcome (these anxieties) is to have more practice, to get on board (a bus) more often, and then you realise that people don’t really care. They’re actually fine with it. The self-consciousness will set in, but it can also be overcome,” he stated.  

To construct course contributors’ confidence, Mr Chong additionally provides them different suggestions for a smoother journey, reminiscent of planning forward, from understanding which cease to alight to discovering out whether or not the buses are wheelchair accessible. 

If commuters are already boarding the bus when the wheelchair user has reached the bus cease, Mr Chong shared that they’ll press the wheelchair push button at the facet of the rear door. This alerts the driver that there’s a wheelchair user who needs to board the bus. 

MORE CONFIDENCE, PEACE OF MIND   

Participants informed CNA that such data benefited them. 

Even a extra assured wheelchair user like 55-year-old Taufik Omar, who took public transport for the first time earlier this 12 months, stated the course helped him uncover wheelchair-accessible options that he had not observed earlier than. 

Ms Nooraini Manaf, who’s Mr Wong’s spouse and full-time caregiver, additionally attended the course together with her husband. She expressed her husband’s concern that no one would assist him to board the bus. 

“The course gives him the insight that the bus captains know how to help people with disabilities. He also gets the opportunity to try boarding a bus alone, whereas in real circumstances, he may have self-doubt. He doesn’t have the confidence,” she stated. 

But the course was additionally for Ms Nooraini, because it gave her “peace of mind” that somebody could be looking for her husband if he went out alone. 

“(People with disabilities) are just like any other person. Despite what they have lost, they have a right to go and pursue whatever they want. With (courses) like this, it will give them a better quality of life,” she stated. 

HARNESSING HIS DISABILITY 

While he might sound educated about the wants of wheelchair customers now, it wasn’t too way back that Mr Chong had a completely completely different life as a chef. 

“Unfortunately, wanting to go back to (being a chef) is difficult, because kitchens aren’t really designed for accessibility or wheelchair users. So I had to look for a different option,” he stated, including that he sought assist from a job coach at SPD. 

Several unsatisfactory presents later, he stumbled upon a job posting by Tower Transit. It was the firm’s first time hiring for such a position. The job wouldn’t simply settle for his incapacity – it thought-about his incapacity an asset. 

In 2020, Mr Chong turned Tower Transit’s first buyer expertise and inclusion officer. Facilitating the public bus confidence course is a component of his job scope.

“Hiring a person with disabilities has meant transforming Tower Transit from inside out. It has meant changing our recruitment processes to accommodate our candidates’ disabilities. It has made us consider things we otherwise take for granted like the height of our office desks and whether the arms of a wheelchair can fit under them,” stated Mr Glenn Lim, the firm’s communications and buyer expertise director. 

“It is also catalysing a change in our company culture. As other employees work with our customer experience and inclusion officers daily and have gotten to know them on a personal level, their experience with and response to disabilities also becomes a lot more personal.” 

Even although the firm may rent an able-bodied particular person for Mr Chong’s job, being a wheelchair user means “the understanding levels are a bit different” when he reaches out to these with disabilities. 

“We don’t know what we don’t know. So it’s always the case where only when someone has gone through a certain experience, or they live with the disability themselves, they see things in a different perspective,” stated Mr Chong. 

“We cannot blame people who don’t understand or don’t know, because (the  needs of wheelchair users) are not something they might regularly think about. But in building this awareness, I think it’s very essential that you have people who actually have the disability to go on the ground, to share their experiences to make things easier to understand for everyone.” 

But Mr Chong clarified that being a wheelchair user didn’t routinely make him good at his job. After all, he had “zero experience” with different individuals who had disabilities. 

“Coming into this job, I told my bosses that what I’m bringing to the table are my experiences as a wheelchair user. That doesn’t mean that I’m an expert in disabilities. So there are a lot of things that we need to learn.”

TWO-WAY EMPATHY 

And be taught Mr Chong has. Not solely from fellow wheelchair customers, however from the bus captains who assist them.

He tries to convey these classes to contributors of the public bus confidence course. A portion of the course is devoted for contributors to work together with bus captains, so either side can empathise with one another. 

For occasion, Mr Chong stated he’s learnt that deploying the wheelchair ramp a number of occasions a day could be tiring for bus captains who’re older or who’ve a smaller construct, although they’re greater than keen to assist wheelchair customers. 

“Being a wheelchair user and having conversations with them like that is very real, because they tell me sometimes on their journey, they have like eight wheelchair users, and they have to keep deploying the ramp on and off. … Even assisting wheelchair users to board is a very physical, very laborious thing to do,” he stated.

“It’s actually a very, very strenuous job. Not only is it physical, it’s also very mental because they have to try for multiple hours, and make sure that the journeys are safe.”  

As for bettering the bus journey for wheelchair customers, Mr Chong would commonly take a bus anonymously to “audit” the degree of a bus captain’s inclusivity. 

He additionally reminds bus captains to “always ask first” earlier than helping a wheelchair user. 

“I get that they are trained to help, but it’s also important to respect the wheelchair user in terms of whether they want the help or not. Sometimes, there are wheelchair users who are very independent, so they will want to board and alight the bus themselves,” he stated. 

Four years since he turned a wheelchair user, life has taken on a completely different which means. 

Recalling a former participant who was initially “reserved” when he attended the course as a consequence of earlier dangerous experiences on public buses, Mr Chong stated the participant finally turned “more receptive”. 

“I think we met him a few months after the course. I heard that he went back to work and he was taking buses on his own already. So it was very nice to see that whole transition. You could tell that there was confidence behind his voice,” he added. 

“It meant something personal to me. I saw this change, which made me feel like my job has meaning.” 

'Am I hindering others?': The fears and anxieties of taking the bus after becoming a wheelchair user

Grace Yeoh

Source : channelnewsasia.com

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