An Awkward Bus Trip

Recently a friend and I went to see the new Star Wars film (The Force Awakens). The Star Wars films involve a lot of travelling across the galaxies, but we had a difficult journey ourselves trying to get to see it.

My friend is blind and uses a cane. He’s recently moved house, and is getting to know routes to various places pretty well from there, but the bus route to the cinema wasn’t one he was familiar with. My sight is better than his, but my distance vision still sucks. And I didn’t know the route either, being a visitor to the area.

But we were happy to give it a go, as we’re both happy using buses. Granted, it’s not always easy – trying to read bus timetables or spot buses coming to flag them down is difficult for instance. But we’d managed to figure out which bus to get and from where, thanks to the internet, and i was able to use my monocular (a little telescope) to see the bus number at the stop. So we got on the right bus, that was fine.

The particularly hard thing about bus journeys is knowing where to get off, and when to ring the bell in advance of the stop you want. For anybody on a bus route they don’t know, it’s hard anyway, but when you can’t see properly it makes things even more difficult.

That’s why trains have always felt easier for me, because I don’t have to worry about requesting stops, and there are various ways to figure out where I am – listening out for tannoy announcements (if there are any and they’re clear enough), looking at the station names through the window with my monocular, and even just counting the stations, having worked out the number in advance. But it’s not that simple on buses, because they often can’t stick precisely to their stated times, they don’t always pull in at every stop, the stops don’t have names you can look out for, and diversions due to roadworks can mess things up further. So they’re much more unpredictable.

So we did the sensible thing – my friend and I boarded the bus together and asked the bus driver to let us know when we got to the stop for the cinema. The driver said that he would, and we left it at that.

As you may have guessed, he didn’t let us know. It was only when we checked the time that we suspected things had gone wrong. So my friend approached the driver, who confirmed that he had indeed forgotten. Which in itself was frustrating, as he promised he would remember. But it was the excuses he made that we didn’t like very much.

Firstly, because he noticed I could see better than my friend, he said he thought I would know when to ring the bell to request the stop. This is despite the fact that we had both asked the driver for his help when we got on, which we wouldn’t have done if we hadn’t needed it. And it was a big assumption for him to make about me. Just because I can see better, it doesn’t mean that I can see well enough or that I know the route sufficiently.

So that was quite annoying, but when we voiced our displeasure at that, he then started to say that we shouldn’t have asked him in the first place. He gets lots of requests for stops, particularly from tourists, and he can’t always remember every single one, so it would have been better for us to ask one of the passengers on the bus instead.

Had it been a busy bus full of people and tourists, I could have had a bit of sympathy with that reason. I appreciate it’s a bit of a boring or stressful job sometimes. But there were only a handful of people on this bus for the entire journey, and nobody had got on and requested the driver’s help after us. Plus, if it was that much of a problem for him, why did he agree to tell us when we got to the stop in the first place? And even if he had told us to ask a passenger instead, how would we know who to ask? We would either have to approach every single person, or stand there and call out to everyone at once, to see who might be going our way and able to help, which in itself would be rather awkward. The driver knows the route better than anyone, for obvious reasons, and should be trained in good customer service, so he should be the safest person to ask.

Suffice to say, we were not pleased. But to give him a little bit of credit, the driver did then get on the radio and contacted a bus coming the other way, arranging a rendezvous stop so we could swap over, at no extra charge. And that new driver did pull up to the stop for us, as the old driver had asked him to do so. But by that point it was much too late. The film would have been at least half an hour in, even allowing for trailers and adverts at the start, so we decided to stay on the bus and went back to the town centre instead. But we did make a mental note of where the stop was. The fact that we were now heading back into town meant we could now pick out landmarks, so that we would know when to request the stop in future if we did the journey again.

We told a number of my friend’s friends about it later, all of whom said we should complain. And my friend did talk to someone he knew with a connection with the bus company about it. So we believe it got fed back to them, though whether anything will change as a result, we don’t know. Maybe we should have gone through a more formal complaints procedure, but we didn’t feel like it in the end.

A couple of days later, we did attempt the journey again. And this time, we did manage to work out when to get off, so we were able to see the film. We had unintentionally managed to pick the 3D showing though, something we only found out when we went to get our tickets. 3D films are no good for either of us – my friend can’t see well enough to start with, and 3D glasses don’t work for me as I can’t focus properly. But we decided to give it a go without glasses anyway.

Star Wars, The Force Awakens, Logo Image

Thankfully it was still watchable without any 3D glasses for the most part. There were a few moments where I could see the blurry overlap of the two pictures that make up the 3D effect, which looked weird, but the vast majority of the time the picture seemed fine. I’ll see it better when I get it on Blu-ray anyway. There was no audio description for my friend to use, but he was able to follow it well enough. And I had already looked up the opening ‘crawl’ online – the text that scrolls up at the start of every Star Wars film – and read it to my friend before we left home, so he knew what that said.

As for what we thought of the film, we agreed it was alright – good fun with nice special effects, but nothing out of this world, as it were. As far as we could tell, it’s designed to reboot the Star Wars saga, by introducing new characters and locations while maintaining connections to the older ones we’re familiar with. And it worked well in that respect. It opened various doors and raised various questions that can be explored in the films going forward. And there was one big twist in particular that we hadn’t known was coming, so I was pleased I’d managed to avoid that spoiler online – quite some feat, as they can pop up even when you’re not looking for them.

All in all, I’m glad we got to see it in the end, as it’s an enjoyable and important part of the overall Star Wars saga. It’s worth seeing, just don’t expect anything ground-breaking. I imagine things will get more interesting and complicated in the next few movies over the coming years.

So that’s an example of an awkward moment I had recently. There are still plenty of people – not just bus drivers – who need to be educated and reminded about how to interact with and respect disabled people. Which is a shame really, but not entirely surprising. But that’s why Scope’s End The Awkward campaign was such a good idea last year. It was in response to that campaign that I made a little video about interacting with disabled people, and I was one of many vloggers that got involved. So I hope it helped to get the message out there and make a bit of a difference.

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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