Disabled people, especially those with hidden conditions, illnesses, and injuries, are to be offered new blue badges to alert fellow passengers on London's public transport of their need for a seat.
The blue badges – bearing the words “please offer me a seat” – are similar to the popular "Baby on Board" badges worn by more than 300,000 pregnant passengers on London transport every year.
The new badges are being trialled with 1,000 disabled people from 3 September. The six-week trial follows passenger feedback and Transport for London (TfL) research that shows disabled people, particularly if their need isn’t obvious, often find it difficult to get a seat.
Richard Lane, a spokesperson for disability charity Scope, told BuzzFeed News that many disabled people, especially those with hidden impairments and conditions, often find it difficult to have to ask passengers to give up their seats in crowded carriages.
"This is unsurprising considering that a third of disabled people tell us that they have been accused of not really being disabled," he said.
Rachael Stevens, who has retinitis pigmentosa and is registered as blind, told BuzzFeed News that on one hand it's great that people with hidden impairments can use the badge to get a seat, but on other hand she thought the badge should offer more context, for example, by referencing "hidden disability" on the badge itself.
"For me, it doesn't give enough information. It just sounds like a pleading request with no context. Whereas 'Baby on Board' is self-explanatory," she said.
Stevens said she would've been classified as having a hidden impairment a few years ago. She now uses a white cane, which means she has become more visibly disabled to other passengers, but still in rush hour it's easy for people not to notice.
She is therefore concerned that wearing a badge won't make much of a difference for disabled passengers during busy periods.
"My white cane is over half my height, and often passengers who see it will offer me a seat," she said. "But during rush hour people are looking at their phones, and reading the Metro, everyone is too busy to notice it."
Perhaps most importantly, Stevens, who works as a psychotherapist, said that there needs to be a better public understanding of the reality of having hidden impairments so that people might feel more empowered to ask for a seat.
For example, some people might not understand that the vast majority of blind people can see to some extent. "One minute I could be reading a Kindle, but then I can't get myself off the train without tripping down the step," she said. "Some kind of campaign about what [hidden impairment] is would be an enormous help," she added
Alan Benson, chair at the charity Transport for All, told BuzzFeed News that although the new blue badges could be very useful for those with hidden impairments, people should give up their seats to people who need it regardless of whether they're wearing a badge or not.
"Whilst we are supporting this initiative for people who choose to use it, this should not become the norm. Disabled people should not have to wear this badge in order to prove that they need a priority seat," Benson said.
"We hope TfL will keep encouraging people’s behaviour to give their seat to anyone who may need it regardless of whether they are wearing a badge or not."
Lane, Scope's head of campaigns, digital and marketing groups, also said that disabled people still find it more difficult than most to navigate London’s busy transport network, and that there are still changes to be made to improve their journeys.
“There’s been some positive progress to increase the accessibility of the network but there’s still a long way to go," Lane said. "Seventy-five per cent of the tube network is still not fully accessible and on a daily basis attitudes towards disabled people remain a significant barrier.
“We’re pleased Transport for London is listening to their disabled customers and looking at new ways to improve journeys for disabled Londoners and visitors. We look forward to seeing the results of the trial.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that he hopes the new blue badges can make a "real difference" for Londoners with hidden impairments.
"Everyone who travels around London knows about the success of the Baby on Board badges," he said. "I want Londoners to embrace our new trial and help these blue badges become as instantly recognisable, giving confidence to those wearing them on public transport across London."
Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Fiona Rutherford at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.