How To Build Up Confidence On Public Transport As A New Wheelchair User

For people who acquire disabilities in later life, becoming a wheelchair user often leads to a significant lifestyle change. There are many new things to master and adjust to over this time, and one of the biggest hurdles can be navigating public transport in a whole new way.

As somebody with a chronic illness, I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user. This means I have some mobility and use different aids on different days. In 2018 I moved from using a transit wheelchair to a powerchair – and it’s changed my life for the better. Becoming a powerchair user gave me a level of independence I’d been craving and opened the world to me in many different ways. However, for a long time, I feared using my powerchair to board public transport.

woman sitting on wheelchair on a platform with fast moving train in the background
Source: apeyron

It took me four months to build up the confidence to board the bus using my powerchair, and longer still to undertake a train journey. Anything unfamiliar can often feel scary to us, but here are three actions that helped me to build up my confidence:

Take A Friend

Sometimes having a familiar face with you can make all the difference. Having a friend with me took away some of my anxiety about navigating public transport, and gave me more confidence to communicate with staff when I began to board the bus. It also made it easier to laugh about anything that didn’t quite go to plan and identify how to do things even better next time. Trust me, my first few attempts at reversing into the wheelchair space on the bus were quite something to behold!

Try Smaller Journeys First

If you’re travelling solo, consider making some smaller journeys in your local area. Board public transport on a day where you’re not tied to any plans or don’t have anywhere specific to be, so you can assess the time and energy your trip requires. You could even try and travel at quieter times in the day to give you some more space to figure things out. The more experience you build up, the less daunting the longer journeys become.

Book Assistance

If you’re travelling by train, Passenger Assistance is here to help. The app is free to download and it allows you to book your journey in advance, note down any specific requirements, and somebody will be on hand to deploy the ramp at the station or cater to any of your other needs. Staff are there to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask any questions if you’re unsure of what you’re supposed to be doing. Head over to our previous blog post for a breakdown of how our app works.

If you’re currently feeling anxious about using public transport as a wheelchair or powerchair user, you have my empathy. However, please be assured that it really does get easier with time – in fact, it’s almost second nature to me now. Above all else, remember that boarding public transport brings you one step closer to new adventures, and let that thought spur you on. Happy travels – you’ve got this!

About the Author

Pippa Stacey is a disabled writer, influencer, and presenter based in Yorkshire. She also works in communications consultancy in the charity sector and has been named by The Disability Power 100 as one of the most influential disabled people in the UK. In her free time, Pippa enjoys theatre, reading, travel, and blogging about her experiences at Life Of Pippa.