A teenager in a wheelchair suffered a torrent of abuse from bus passengers on the way home from the Preston Christmas lights switch-on.
Jessica Barton, 19, had enjoyed the festive event with her mum Venus Barton and step sister Megan Alston but her journey home on the number 16 bus left her in tears.
“I was waiting outside the doors waiting to board the bus when two women and men with prams rudely pushed in front of me,” said Jessica, who lives in Preston.
“The bus driver finally got up from his seat and put the ramp down for me. I have functional dystonia so I have trouble in the cold moving my hands but I tried my best to push the joystick on my wheelchair and reverse into a free bay.
“I was struggling and asked the women to move their prams over but to no avail. I got a dirty look from both with a refusal so my mum asked them once more, as by law wheelchairs have priority, but we got nothing but abuse.
“They were calling me all sorts all the way home - verbal abuse from six grown men and women.
“I was in tears. It was horrible.”
Jessica, a beauty student at Preston’s College, said that despite the fact that there were other passengers on the bus no one else stood up for her.
“They literally all just sat there,” she said. “The whole bus was very quiet and allowed it to happen.
“I know I’m not the first one this has happened to and I want to raise awareness about the issue and educate people on the law of wheelchairs having priority over prams.
“If people see this happen I want to ask them to speak up as it was horrific and makes you feel vulnerable.”
Jessica says that she has to deal with verbal abuse about her disability on a daily basis but she is fed up with being made to feel like a second rate citizen on buses.
“I also use a walking aid and I’ve had problems where they have tried to make me fold it down to make space for prams.
“For me using my walking aid or chair is like a part of my body. I can’t go out without them.
“I could fall, I need my walking aid to steady my body. I’m quite used to it with my walking aid but I haven’t had my wheelchair so long.”
Jessica says that although she could report the abuse to police she doesn’t see what they could do about it.
“Police can’t particularly do anything,” she said. “We can’t get their names.”
Jessica Barton suffered verbal abuse on a bus in Preston.
Jessica had been enjoying the Christmas lights switch-on in Preston before the incident
What is Dystonia?
Dystonia is the name for uncontrolled and sometimes painful muscle movements or spasms. It’s usually a lifelong problem, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms.
Symptoms of dystonia include:
++ uncontrolled muscle cramps and spasms;
++ parts of the body twisting into unusual positions – such as your neck being twisted to the side or your feet turning inwards;
++ shaking or tremors;
++ uncontrolled blinking.
The symptoms may be continuous or come and go. They may be triggered by things like stress or certain activities.
What is the law?
In February 2012, Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user, tried to board a FirstGroup bus from Wetherby to Leeds.
The wheelchair space was being used by a mother with a pushchair and a sleeping child.
She refused the driver’s request to move or fold the pushchair and so the driver told Mr Paulley he could not board the bus.
Mr Paulley successfully sued FirstGroup at Leeds County Court for unlawful discrimination against him due to his disability, but this was later overturned on appeal.
The case was then heard by the Supreme Court, which gave its final verdict in January 2017. The Commission supported Mr Paulley at the Court of Appeal, and at the Supreme Court.
The case of Paulley vs FirstGroup plc, backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, means wheelchair users should be given priority for wheelchair spaces on buses.