My Disability on Muni


Like all of us, Katie has a unique perspective. But hers might be unfamiliar to you. Read on …

Having a mobility impairment is hard anywhere. The hills and public transit system unique to San Francisco add further complication for those of us with broken bodies. I’m missing half of my right foot because of a motorcycle wreck. I have a skin graft, nerve damage, and phantom pains in tissue that don’t exist anymore.

I ride Muni every day. It’s important I get a seat–if I stand all the way from Taraval at Sunset to Van Ness, the rest of my day is ruined. 20 minutes of balancing on a mangled foot causes anywhere from 12 to 72 hours of pain. I use my cane every morning. When I can grab a seat, sitting in the handicapped seating is stressful.

I get on the train in the Sunset/Parkside district and ride it all the way in. My disability is largely invisible unless I’m barefoot or wearing a skirt that exposes my scar-covered right leg. I get dirty looks from older riders when I don’t get up to allow them a seat; I look like a perfectly healthy 22-year-old woman. I sit in the seat, repeat to myself “you’re handicapped and have a right to sit here” and stare at my foot-and-a-half while clutching my cane with white knuckles.

If someone asks, I explain that I am handicapped; that usually kills any discussion. Only once has someone decided to inflict themselves on me and made me “prove” my disability. After taking off my shoe and asking that my medical privacy be respected, the rider in question turned beet red and got off at the next stop.

Monday morning, I wasn’t able to get a seat. I spent the entire train ride being flung around by inertia. I fell into the person to my left three times. She yelled “Bitch” at me, then turned to look at me and saw my cane. She then muttered “oh, sorry” and moved 2 inches to the right.

I tipped into the able-bodied young man who was in the handicapped seating. He looked up at me, saw the cane in my hand, made eye contact with me and shrugged, then turned up his headphones and pulled his hood over his eyes.

Six hours after my train ride that morning, my entire body was still in searing pain. I had to hold on with my right arm only, as my left arm has tendinitis in the wrist and elbow in addition to being the hand I hold my cane in. My right ankle, calf, knee, hip, shoulder, upper back, and neck were all in various levels of pain and swelling due to not being able to sit that morning. Any pain medications strong enough to combat the pain and swelling caused by the morning’s ride were so strong that I was too strung out to work.

Handicapped accessibility options can be seen as “convenience” for those who do not know what a mobility disability does to your life. When one has all 10 toes, no nerve damage, and good balance, a seat in the morning is a convenience. You get to read an extra 20 pages in your book in the morning and finish your coffee before it’s cold.

When you have eight toes, nerve damage, chronic pain and the balance of a two-minute-old foal, being able to sit on the train in the morning means being able to walk from the bus stop to my building in less than 15 minutes; not destroying my liver with high doses of pain killers that make me vomit until I’m dry heaving; being able to get dinner with my boyfriend later in the evening; being able to go home and do laundry; not being in pain from the day until noon. It lets me live for a few hours, rather than be trapped in a body rendered useless by constant pain.

I’ve been asked about why I don’t just ask people to get up. It’s embarrassing. I hate my body. I hate my foot. I hate my leg. I hate the pain I’m in every day. I hate admitting that going up the hill at Diviz and Haight is hard. I hate that it takes me extra time to go up all three flights of stairs in my friends’ apartment building. I hate that it takes me 6 months to find a single pair of shoes I can wear both of at the same time. I hate having to ask my landlord to install handicapped shower bars.

I’m at war with the vessel my mind occupies. I don’t like my friends thinking of me as handicapped, telling a stranger on the train that I’m handicapped is humiliating. Having to do it every morning is just demoralizing. I’m 22; my body should be young, supple, lean, and functional. I’ve been made to feel like a disfigured freak in my own home because of a guest my roommate had over.

Not to say good people don’t ride Muni. Unfortunately, the negative always seems louder than the positive. I’ve had a few experiences in which a fellow Muni rider will offer me a seat without making me feel like a disability instead of a human. I always thank the rider earnestly when it happens. I appreciate it so much.

Being disabled and riding public transit is really hard. As bitter as I get from the chronic pain, it’s something I’d never wish on anyone else, even the mean people that inflict pain on me by not allowing me the seat set aside for me under federal law. (There’s even a little drawing of a person with a cane on the sign! And by the way, your headphones aren’t an invisibility cloak.)

Riding Muni on some days leaves me feeling more defeated than I did when I was bleeding in the street with my foot ripped apart.

Like Katie, you can share your point of view here on Muni Diaries.

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