Monday, October 10, 2016
"Disabled woman yelled at for using train’s priority seat, 'not looking like a handicapped person'"
Photo and text from Japan Today, 10/10/16.
What comes to mind when you think of people with disabilities? Chances are you imagined someone in a wheelchair or other mobility aid, or perhaps some other physically apparent handicap. However, oftentimes the disability is internal – otherwise known as an “invisible/hidden disability” – and can be anything from heart problems to anxiety disorders.
Trains in Japan have special priority seating in each car especially reserved for those who need it, including pregnant mothers, the elderly, and people with physical disabilities. While no one would question someone walking with a crutch using the priority seating, a person with, say, painful arthritis who has no outward, physical signs of their suffering may be seen by those around them as someone who needs a priority seat.
On September 28, Twitter-user @SugimotoYohko shared an unpleasant episode of discrimination her friend, who has a hidden disability, had gone through earlier that same day. The post included a photo of a tag her friend keeps with her that reads “I have an internal disability”, as well as a call for others to share the story:
“I was taking the train to the hospital in town for a check-up, my ‘invisible disability’ tag on the front of my bag as it should be, and sat down in the priority seating area, when an older man yelled at me. ‘These seats are for handicapped and the elderly! Get up!’
To be sure, I showed him the physical disability certificate, but then he said, ‘Well that’s misleading. If you’re handicapped, then you should look more like a handicapped person!’
I felt like crying. I got off at the next stop to take the following train. And after going through the trouble to look nice for a trip into town… There’s not a lot of understanding towards people with invisible disabilities, so sometimes painful things like this happen… It’s unfortunate.”
@SugimotoYohko wrote of the incident: “‘Look more like a handicapped person…’ What’s that even supposed to mean?! I don’t want my friends or anyone else with similar conditions to feel bad, so I ask everyone for their understanding and cooperation.”
The tweet has been receiving a lot of attention, with over 20,000 retweets since it was originally posted. There have been numerous angry comments about the situation, and rightly so, with a many others who have invisible disabilities themselves speaking up as well.
“I have an internal illness too, so I completely understand that feeling… You can’t tell there’s anything wrong by looking at me. I don’t care how old the person is, I wish there was something we could do about people like that who just don’t understand.”
“I’d like to reply back, ‘How about, if you’re elderly then you should act more like it! An old geezer like you shouldn’t sit in the priority seats!’”
“What the hell? That’s horrible! Terrible!”
“Is there even a handicap way to look in the first place? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
While in recent years there have been efforts to raise awareness of disabilities and handicapped people, there still seems to some way to go to increase knowledge of less-obvious disabilities. And perhaps we can all take this as a reminder to not judge a book by its cover.