If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might know about my fiancé Corry and her amazing and inspiring #LookUp campaign to help improve public transport for disabled people.
The dust has settled (for now!), so here’s Corry’s #LookUp story to date in FAQ form.
I think her story underlines the importance of having a defined goal in activism. Something measurable. Not: “We want people to be nicer”, but: “We want TfL to add ‘Look Up – does someone need your seat?’ to taped announcements on bus and tube services”.
I’m just bringing this up because it seems to me that quite often people have great ideas for change that don’t become effective movements because they don’t define when they get to declare “mission accomplished” and move on to the next thing.
Anyway, hope you get time to read and share and get inspired!
I was going to write a blog piece about the #LookUp campaign but it was terribly long and rambling so I’ve decided to do an FAQ instead so you can easily find the bits that are of interest to you. These FAQ’s are all questions I’ve been asked throughout the campaign either from media, friends, twitter followers or trolls.
*WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?
As a rule I don’t like sharing my medical history with strangers and this is a question I would ask you not to open a conversation with! But it seems to be of interest to people. I have a condition called Scheuermann’s Disease which is a developmental disorder of the spine. Secondary conditions which have arisen because of this are DDD, osteoarthritis, bursitis, tendinopathy, nerve damage and pes planus (fallen arches). Alongside this delightful bunch I also have debilitating endometriosis. And unsurprisingly I have mental health conditions. I suffer from depression and anxiety which causes panic attacks. An unrelated mental health diagnosis is PTSD. I also unashamedly like the music of James Blunt which a lot of people would include in the ‘what’s wrong with you’ section.
My conditions mean I have mobility problems and chronic pain. I find it difficult to walk, to stand or even to sit or lie down for an extended period.
*WHY DID YOU START THE CAMPAIGN?
I work as a comedy producer for Impatient Productions and it is a job I love. I was bed bound for almost 2 years before I attended a Pain Management Programme at Salford Royal which helped me manage my pain to a level I could return to work part time. I’m incredibly lucky that my employers are understanding of my disability and give me the flexibility to work part time and work from home when my pain is too bad to travel. But I like to be in the office or at the shows. So I commute from South Ealing to Crouch End when I am able.
I find it incredibly hard to get a seat on public transport. I wear my ‘Please Offer Me A Seat’ badge which TfL provide to anyone who has difficulty standing but I found that people don’t notice it, they don’t even notice my walking aids because they don’t look up.
I had a particularly bad journey on June 14th which ended with me sobbing in front of a packed carriage begging to sit with everyone simultaneously staring and pretending not to notice me. I had to get off the tube and wait for the next one. My pain physically and emotionally was unbearable. I was so, so embarrassed and I have never felt more ‘disabled’ than I did at that time.
I wrote to TfL. I heard nothing. So I wrote again, to them, Chris Grayling (who was minister for Transport at the time), Sadiq Khan and I CC’d every news outlet (except the Daily Mail and the Sun) and every charity I could find contact details for. I took to social media and posted the letter there. Someone asked where the petition was. I created one. And found that I had accidentally become an activist.
*WHY NOT JUST ASK FOR A SEAT?
There are numerous reasons people can’t ask. Personally I find it very difficult to ask as in the past I’ve sometimes been ignored, refused or given abuse…it makes each subsequent time much, much more difficult. The MAIN reason I don’t like to ask is because lots of people have invisible impairments. Not every disability is visible. I never ask someone in a priority seat to move in case they are as in need of it as I am. This is why it is vital that non disabled people that can stand for their journey offer.
Also. Some people cannot ask. They may not have speech, English may not be their first language, they may have visual impairments so may not want to ask in case the person they are asking is also disabled, they may have autism and find social interaction difficult, they may have any one of a plethora of reasons why it is just not possible for them to ask.
*I OFFERED SOMEONE A SEAT ONCE AND THEY TOOK OFFENCE, NOW I’M TOO EMBARRASSED TO OFFER AGAIN.
This is a common one and makes me so sad.
If someone offers you a seat and you don’t want or need it please be polite when you decline because you are making it so, so much harder for people that do need a seat.
If you are unsure about offering in case you cause offence you don’t need to verbally offer, just stand and if the person needs the seat believe me they will jump right in it (or sort of wobble into it if it’s me) and if they don’t need it you can sit back down safe in the knowledge that someone isn’t suffering because you are in the seat.
*LONDON IS RUDE/BAD. PEOPLE ARE RUDE/BAD.
Not true. There are tremendous acts of kindness every day, not just in this city but everywhere. YES some people are rude but I genuinely believe most people are good and want to do the right thing. London does have a reputation for being impersonal and avoiding eye contact on the tube is a real thing. But I don’t think that’s because people are rude. They are busy, they are tired, they want to complete a level on their game, they want to answer that email, they want to read the book, they want to read the news. This doesn’t make people bad or rude. I think a little reminder to look up, a glance at each station or stop isn’t asking the world and I know that some people are already doing it. It is already making a difference.
*I’M NOT GIVING UP MY SEAT! WHY SHOULD I? I PAID FOR IT.
Ahhhh trolls, you gotta love them. If you don’t want to give up your seat. Don’t. See above. We only need a few people in each carriage to want to do the right thing…and I believe they outnumber the selfish people to a huge extent. Someone once said there are only two types of people. Disabled people and people who aren’t disabled yet. Lets hope that when you are disabled, when you break your leg, when you are elderly you find more people that are kind than people like you when you travel.
*YOU SHOULDN’T TRAVEL IN RUSH HOUR IF YOU ARE DISABLED OR PREGNANTY.
This isn’t just from trolls. It is AMAZING how many people think that disabled/pregnant people don’t work or don’t have a life to get on with. I don’t think anyone would choose to travel in rush hour if they didn’t have to.
Being disabled or being pregnant doesn’t mean you don’t work, it doesn’t mean you can pick and chose which hours you travel in. And if you think it does picture this. You break your leg. What happens? Do you get to just not bother working? Do they keep you on full pay until your leg is completely healed? Do you get to go into work 2 hours late and leave 2 hours early? No. Of course not. That would be silly. Don’t be silly.
Look Up is a phrase I have grown up with. When I was a kid my mum used to tell me to ‘look up, you’ll never know what you’ll miss if you don’t look up’. She was, and still is fascinated by nature, by architecture, by astronomy and by curiosity. She used to point up and show me all the things I’d miss if I didn’t raise my eyes. When I became ill and my mental health started to deteriorate ‘Look Up’ took on a whole new meaning. I have had crisis points which have been extremely challenging for myself and my family. Look Up became a mantra and a tool to help me.
For this campaign I thought what would help me, all I need is for people to see me. I have ‘Look Up’ tattooed on my wrist. It just made sense that this reminder would be the perfect message, the perfect announcement to make people more mindful when they are travelling. It’s so simple, and so direct that it amazed me it hadn’t already been implemented.
*HOW DID TFL REACT?
I didn’t get a response from the customer service department. So I went online looking for individual emails within TfL that I could write to. I found the address for the Press Office which came with the disclaimer ‘Please note, the Press Office is unable to help with general queries or complaints…for media enquiries only’. But I thought it was worth a shot. Especially at this stage where I was pretty much fuelled by anger that so far I’d been ignored. So I emailed them outlining what my problems had been, what my solution was, and also that I’d been invited on to LBC for an interview that night. The response was immediate.
One of my earliest allies in the campaign was press officer Siobrha Murphy, who, it turns out was 3 days in to her new job at TfL. She wrote back to me expressing sympathy for what had happened and letting me know she was going to look into the idea and get back to me. Within the day I had a meeting set up to go into their offices to discuss the campaign. I should note that they also offered to come to me, to save me travelling, an offer which I’m still not sure they understand the impact of. It showed me that they were people empathetic with my situation and prepared to go out of their way to ensure I was comfortable. But I wanted to get things done and I knew I’d get a faster appointment if I went to them.
I met with three incredible women who spent about an hour with me talking through my experiences, discussing the possible solutions and assuring me that they would be taking it further. I left that meeting feeling positive but knowing that TfL is huge and decisions like this would probably have to go through a million hoops and forms before they could be adopted.
*WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE MAYOR?
I knew TfL were discussing the idea and I had faith in the three women I’d met but they were not the decision makers, so I decided to continue with the petition and the campaign and focus on my next target…City Hall. I was lucky that the State Of London Debate was coming up where Londoners can table questions to the mayor. I had booked my ticket and made the arduous journey to the O2. Mr Khan was named on the petition so I knew his office was getting updates from change dot Org. I had also emailed him and Heidi Alexander (the deputy mayor for transport). I had not had a response by the time of the debate. When I asked him at the debate if he wold support the campaign and use the full weight of his office to get TfL to implement the idea, he immediately answered ‘yes, absolutely’ and that his office would contact me soon.
*WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW?
I am delighted to say that both TfL and City Hall have stuck to their words. Look Up is already on posters and in announcements over the tube network and I will be continuing to work with TfL to ensure that the message endures and to work out ways to roll it out across the full network.
I have been invited to speak to the working group about the implementation of the campaign throughout the national rail network. Supporters of the campaign have also launched in their own cities with Edinburgh Trams currently looking at implementation.
*WHAT CAN I DO?
If you are a Londoner please tweet me every time you see or hear an announcement with the #LookUp. My twitter is @CorryShawComedy.
If you are not in London and feel inspired please take the idea to your MP, to your council, to your local public transport provider and fight to have the same message applied where you are. Let’s try to get #LookUp national, on every bus, train, tram, tube we can!
And please, wherever you are, however you travel, please be mindful of those travelling alongside you. Please look up and offer your seat if you see someone more in need of it that you are.
And if you want to do something personally for me which has nothing to do with the campaign. Please find your local comedy club and support it, buy a ticket, go laugh. I love my job as a comedy producer, I love live comedy and the support that I have had from the comedy community has been vital to me throughout this campaign. Pay it forward, buy a ticket to a show.
Please offer me a seat badges can be found here: http://tfl.gov.uk/campaign/please-offer-me-a-seat
If you wish to find out more about accessibility for disabled travellers or wish to donate to a charity fighting for equal access to transport please support Transport For All, who have been a huge help throughout the campaign and are doing really important work. http://www.transportforall.org.uk @transportforall
Here’s what has happened. In date order.
Disabled woman fighting to make commuters ‘Look Up’ on London Underground
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PnIIOj_TjOYPT1gkRtdaFiTMH-kQC7YC/view SKIP FORWARD TO 4.30 minutes.