UK Supreme Court Weighs in on Buggy vs. Wheelchair Issue

The UK Supreme Court ruled last month on a pivotal disability rights issue regarding the use of allocated wheelchair spaces on buses. The case stemmed from a 2012 incident in Leeds, where wheelchair-user Doug Paulley tried to board a FirstGroup bus, but a mother with a stroller who was occupying the wheelchair space refused to move. In spite of the signage that clearly states that the seats are reserved for disabled passengers, the driver would only request — not require — that she move. Ultimately Mr. Paulley was left at the curb.

Paulley argued that FirstGroup’s policy of “requesting not requiring” was discriminatory, and the lower court ruled in his favor in 2013. In 2014 the Court of Appeal overturned that ruling.

In a decision released last month the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Paulley; and although they found no evidence of discrimination, the court concluded that bus drivers must do more than simply request that able-bodied passengers vacate the wheelchair spaces.

So what exactly is more? Well according to the judgment, the drivers may stop the bus “with a view to pressurising or shaming recalcitrant non-wheelchair users to move” if they think a refusal to move is unreasonable. Unfortunately the ruling fell short of requiring bus companies to compel able-bodied passengers to vacate the wheelchair spaces.

Still, disability rights activists consider this a victory, even though they are disappointed with the court’s lack of clarity in the matter.

Mr. Paulley perhaps sums it up best, “Who would have thought that five years on I would still being discussing the day I had that problem going across to see my parents for lunch?”