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Disabled woman yelled at for using train’s priority seat, 'not looking like a handicapped person'

54 Comments
By Meg Murphy, RocketNews24

What comes to mind when you think of people with disabilities? Chances are you imagined someone in a wheelchair or other mobility aid, or perhaps some other physically apparent handicap. However, oftentimes the disability is internal – otherwise known as an “invisible/hidden disability” – and can be anything from heart problems to anxiety disorders.

Trains in Japan have special priority seating in each car especially reserved for those who need it, including pregnant mothers, the elderly, and people with physical disabilities. While no one would question someone walking with a crutch using the priority seating, a person with, say, painful arthritis who has no outward, physical signs of their suffering may be seen by those around them as someone who needs a priority seat.

On September 28, Twitter-user @SugimotoYohko shared an unpleasant episode of discrimination her friend, who has a hidden disability, had gone through earlier that same day. The post included a photo of a tag her friend keeps with her that reads “I have an internal disability”, as well as a call for others to share the story:

“I was taking the train to the hospital in town for a check-up, my ‘invisible disability’ tag on the front of my bag as it should be, and sat down in the priority seating area, when an older man yelled at me. ‘These seats are for handicapped and the elderly! Get up!’

To be sure, I showed him the physical disability certificate, but then he said, ‘Well that’s misleading. If you’re handicapped, then you should look more like a handicapped person!’

I felt like crying. I got off at the next stop to take the following train. And after going through the trouble to look nice for a trip into town… There’s not a lot of understanding towards people with invisible disabilities, so sometimes painful things like this happen… It’s unfortunate.”

@SugimotoYohko wrote of the incident: “‘Look more like a handicapped person…’ What’s that even supposed to mean?! I don’t want my friends or anyone else with similar conditions to feel bad, so I ask everyone for their understanding and cooperation.”

The tweet has been receiving a lot of attention, with over 20,000 retweets since it was originally posted. There have been numerous angry comments about the situation, and rightly so, with a many others who have invisible disabilities themselves speaking up as well.

“I have an internal illness too, so I completely understand that feeling… You can’t tell there’s anything wrong by looking at me. I don’t care how old the person is, I wish there was something we could do about people like that who just don’t understand.”

“I’d like to reply back, ‘How about, if you’re elderly then you should act more like it! An old geezer like you shouldn’t sit in the priority seats!'”

“What the hell? That’s horrible! Terrible!”

“Is there even a handicap way to look in the first place? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

While in recent years there have been efforts to raise awareness of disabilities and handicapped people, there still seems to some way to go to increase knowledge of less-obvious disabilities. And perhaps we can all take this as a reminder to not judge a book by its cover.

Source: Twitter/@SugimotoYohko via BUZZmag

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- To sit or not to sit? Linguistic and societal debate on Japanese train seats for the elderly -- Should healthy young men sit in Japanese trains’ priority seats for the elderly and pregnant? -- Italians have a helpful hint for Japanese commuters on a busy day

© Japan Today

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54 Comments
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To be sure, I showed him the physical disability certificate, but then he said, ‘Well that’s misleading. If you’re handicapped, then you should look more like a handicapped person!’

Well, a nice come back would have been saying something about his looks!

.I got off at the next stop to take the following train. And after going through the trouble to look nice for a trip into town… There’s not a lot of understanding towards people with invisible disabilities, so sometimes painful things like this happen… It’s unfortunate.”

I apologize if this seems crass, but if you have had this experience before maybe the best thing would be to ignore those who know nothing about you and let them be.

As just about all gaijin living in Japan know, ignorance comes in all shapes and forms, and age does not always come with wisdom.

I am sorry you are disabled, but until people here get educated, you can't let them win, and by leaving the train you let them get the best of you. I hope you get stronger, inside!

3 ( +11 / -8 )

What's sadder is no one in a presumably crowded train told the ignorant old git to shut his pie hole. A show of support would have be so easy and effective.

25 ( +28 / -3 )

To be sure, I showed him the physical disability certificate, but then he said, ‘Well that’s misleading. If you’re handicapped, then you should look more like a handicapped person!’

This man should get fined or something, but maybe he should carry a card saying "I'm old and I'm becoming an insensitive idiot...". It's already hard to have health issues, these persons don't need to deal with aggressive behaviors like that. I don't think these certificates and tags should be necessary. People should get basic education, be taught to be nice with others, that's all. I'd give my seat (any seat not "special") to anyone asking for it. Just anyone, any age, any appearance may feel unwell or have a leg issue and need to sit down. The other day a young women came to sit down in the train and she showed a card to a man that was about to take the seat before she arrived. He stared with an unconvinced expression, checked the card well as if he was a cop at the airport and he said something like "I had no idea such cards existed for young people...". She felt forced to justify "I don't look like it, but I have a serious illness already at my age which is...", And he kept asking questions. I wanted to tell him something but she made a gesture that was OK. She explained him everything (about MS that was), her symptoms, etc, the full wiki page, then and how she could commute, work a full shift but she had to avoid standing up for a long time, etc. At least, he has wished her well.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

This is where it is an advantage to be a Gaijin disabled or not.. Most Japanese, even if they speak a bit of English, will not say a word to you and rarely sit next to you on a train or bus. I have some fun with this. I stand up as if I am getting off at the next stop and suddenly a Japanese will jump into the empty seat. I then sit down again and ask a question in English. It is hilarious to watch them squirm with embarrassment.

-20 ( +11 / -31 )

Not an uncommon thing.

People will antagonize others for parking in a handicapped spot, even if they have a legitimate permit, if they look 'healthy' or seemingly normal on the outside.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Harassing a disabled person is outrageous.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

@Sherman That stuff may work for your friends back home but it doesn't work on those of us who live here; leave it out.

16 ( +20 / -4 )

Biggest unhidden disability: complexus entitlementum oyaji nipponis.

14 ( +15 / -1 )

I find common courtesy on public transportation has become a bit lacking over the years. I am an elderly person but still in fairly good shape. I always give up my seat to adult females and small children. I find it appalling when a young man will be sitting down and an elderly woman will be having to stand right beside him and he'll pretend he doesn't see her. Also, remember back when it was quite quiet when riding public transportation? With the popularity of cell phones, it has become quite noisy. Is your conversation THAT important that it couldn't wait? My God, how did you possibally survive before the advent of the cell phone?

16 ( +18 / -2 )

The majority of rude people on trains are little kids wearing shorts and Elmer Fudd hats.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

I cannot count how often I see non-handicapped people like, school kids and manga-haired punks pretending to be asleep in the priority seats.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

My wife is 34, looks 25, she has hip displasia and when its bad its REALLY bad. Like can't physically walk because the pain is so bad and the joint is so inflamed the bones physically will not work. Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. We have never had what happened in this story, but we did have one of those awesome dudes on a full train that sits wide legged, taking up two spaces so no one sits next to him. I just straight up pointed to him and said, "yo, my wife is sitting there, thanks". He was not pleased having to be a normal socially acceptable human being follow basic norms of society.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

They can only understand what they see in front of their EYES. It sounds harsh but in this country if you don't look disabled, most people could never understand the idea that you have a hidden disability. Next time just were your arm in a sling. No point arguing over something like this.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

randomnater, a show of support from the other people on the train? From japanese people? like thats ever gonna happen.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

Randomnater, you haven't been in Japan long, have you.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Say if somebody has depression or suffers from panic attacks? Do we have to give up the seat for them, too?

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I sometimes sit in the priority seats if they're the only empty ones, but I figure I'm morally obliged to get up if somebody who really needs them comes along, and I do. Once or twice I've been so dizzy on trains - due to illness - that I've had to crouch down on the floor to avoid passing out, but even if I'm in front of the priority seats, nobody ever offers.

As for Japanese people on the train showing support, I once bumped a young guy on the train in the morning and he started shouting at me. When I started to respond to him a woman sitting in front of my shook my head at ME to keep silent.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Why am I not at all surprised it was an older man who shouted at her. Probably some oyaji tired from the previous night's enkai who felt entitled to a seat. At least he could have had the decency, when shown the handicapped card, to have said, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry," but "That's MISLEADING"?? "You should look more handicapped"??

Name him and shame him.

She actually should have stood up and offered him to sit down, saying, "Obviously you're more 'handicapped' than I am, sir."

9 ( +10 / -1 )

That geezer needs a certificate as well " i,m old and a rude wanker to boot ". Bet he was an Ishihara voter.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

el: "I sometimes sit in the priority seats if they're the only empty ones,"

As do I, although only if I feel the need to sit. Many people are like this on relatively empty trains, though. It's when the trains are less empty or full that 'priority' takes a back seat.

"but I figure I'm morally obliged to get up if somebody who really needs them comes along, and I do. Once or twice I've been so dizzy on trains - due to illness - that I've had to crouch down on the floor to avoid passing out, but even if I'm in front of the priority seats, nobody ever offers."

I wouldn't say 'nobody', but I'd say ALMOST nobody. That's one think I like about Korea more; people will get up and give up their seats to someone even slightly older than them, or women with children, etc., and if they don't those people will say something very sternly. Like I said, if the old guy in this article had had the courage to say he was mistaken and sorry when he saw the woman's card then I might think he was just looking out for others, but as it is the man was clearly just some selfish and arrogant old lout who probably wanted the seat for himself.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Lucky me ! I had the 'opposite" experience a couple of years ago ! I'm told I don't look my age and although I have a bad leg, I didn't use a stick in those days. I hobbled onto the pretty crowded train and hung onto the metal "pole". Suddenly a young guy looked up, saw me and beckoned me to take his place - which I very gratefully did - and he was Japanese and I'm a gaijin ! Apparently, there are exceptions to all the rules !

PS. I wasn't a "priority seat" either...

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Some people (that old guy) are miserable, and want to make the world around them miserable too.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Randomnater, you haven't been in Japan long, have you.

Over 15 yrs and I do speak up when there are weaker parties that need supporting. Sometimes get smiles and approving nods from others but usually I get stares of disbelief.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

The old guy was correct, the disability seats for those with PHYSICAL" disability's not "physical/internal" if that was the case then the seats would apply to nearly half of the train seats...Sorry Yub, not correct in this aspect.

-14 ( +2 / -16 )

@Sherman most Gaijin dont get their kicks off playing ridiculous games on the train...Some of us have better things to do and being a courteous as possible is on the top of the list after all we are guests here..Its the rude ignorant Gaijin that make the others look like turds so do your fellow Gaikokujin a favor stop being one..

3 ( +4 / -1 )

People will antagonize others for parking in a handicapped spot, even if they have a legitimate permit, if they look 'healthy' or seemingly normal on the outside.

Where? Certainly not here in Japan.........

2 ( +2 / -0 )

We get a lot of this abuse in England, where the women are so stuffed with self-importance only their own needs are paramount. The gender competition has become rather ugly, and there will be no going back.

-9 ( +1 / -10 )

Say if somebody has depression or suffers from panic attacks? Do we have to give up the seat for them, too?

Why not? If you aren't in need of a priority seat you shouldn't be sitting in it anyway... so no need to have to give up the seat.

The old guy was correct, the disability seats for those with PHYSICAL" disability's not "physical/internal" if that was the case then the seats would apply to nearly half of the train seats...Sorry Yub, not correct in this aspect.

I hope you never have to suffer from a debilitating ailment that means you need to sit down before you fall down... Just because someone doesn't look disabled doesn't mean they aren't. That oyaji probably gets a seat by shaming others (such as pregnant mothers or elderly ladies and gents) by muttering "ooh, me back's gone again" or "no, no, just a twinge in me back... cor!"

4 ( +5 / -1 )

If she has the card, then she has the card.

If anybody has a problem with that, then get the rules changed.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The old guy was correct, the disability seats for those with PHYSICAL" disability's not "physical/internal"

WTF....Prove your ignorance here please!

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Prove your ignorance here please! Proven by your response, but for you sake, physical disability means limited seating and have to be accommodated, and internal disability, one that is mental, or maybe a target organ can pretty much be accommodated in any seat and not require a special area...if you don't have to common sense and one has to spell it out, read the article again, this time try a light so you read.

re: Just because someone doesn't look disabled doesn't mean they aren't. same for you, try reading glasses and get common sense along the way if you can't distinguish between a physical need and internal need, in this case possibly mental. The seats are designed for physical handicaps, not any other type, which is perfectly sane as my previous comment then all the seats should meet the criteria, once again the original twitter does not think things through and again this is not a political correct forum. The person did not have a physical condition that required special needs seating...next time every mental patient out there will need specialized seating..ooh my head hurts, ooh my stomach is upset from stress therefore I deserve a special needs seat as it is a disability. Boo hooo....get off and take another form of transportation.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

bjohnson23: I was hospitalized for my asthma on Friday evening. If I have an episode and not get the oxygen I need to survive, but look just like any normal person, are you saying I cannot sit in those designated seats? You totally lack an understanding of what those seats are about. Most women pregnant show no signs until the fifth month...but are exhausted...so you deny them the seat?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I was on the train a couple of days ago and asked one of these Two-seat Tanakas to close his legs and shuffle along slightly so someone else could sit down. He glared at me like I'd suggested some form of indecency.

But once I made it clear that his choice was being seated next to someone, or being sat on by someone, he saw reason and moved over.

And when he'd made room, and I offered the seat to the old lady with a stick he should have stood up for originally, he - like a child, closed his eyes tight, because if he can't see it, it isn't happening. He didn't open his eyes again for the rest of the fifty-minute ride. What a convenient episode of narcolepsy. The sad little oaf.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

@bjohnson23, your attitude is pretty insensitive mate... just because someone doesn't show as being disabled they aren't entitled to a priority seat? Why do you think that mobiles are to be switched off near the seats? Pacemakers and other electronic aids can be affected... but they don't show, so the seats are intended for people with all kinds of needs. Little bit of empathy goes a long way. Try it some time.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Nobody had the right to berate anybody in public transport - if they have a beef then they should contact the railway company.Anybody doing so is liable to be filmed and arrested!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Why not? If you aren't in need of a priority seat you shouldn't be sitting in it anyway... so no need to have to give up the seat.

I think it is OK to sit in priority seats when they are not being used, as long as you are vigilant for people who need them.

But what if someone comes up and says, "Give up that seat, I'm suffering from depression!"

I think I might respond with something like... well, I'm having a bad day myself... and not give up the seat.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

“I was taking the train to the hospital in town for a check-up, my ‘invisible disability’ tag on the front of my bag as it should be, and sat down in the priority seating area, when an older man yelled at me. ‘These seats are for handicapped and the elderly! Get up!’

Thumbs down me all you want, but part of me wants to believe that this never really happened, because it's just such a convenient coincidence...

1 - on the way to the hospital 2 - tag on the front of my bag as it should be 3 - old man yells (at a young woman) as soon as I sit down.

I've been riding the trains daily for many years, and only witnessed one time when a Japanese yelled at people in the priority seats. A Japanese man with an obviously artificial leg, and using crutches, entered the Yokohama Line train and nobody would give up their priority seat, even though none of them seemed to need them. He kept yelling "Hasukashiyo, hasukashiyo" at all of them, and they still wouldn't move.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Some people have heart ailments that prevent them doing much physical exertion.

Some people have deep vein thrombosis that prevent them from standing too long.

The only way ya can tell is if they have the card.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

But what if someone comes up and says, "Give up that seat, I'm suffering from depression!"

I think I might respond with something like... well, I'm having a bad day myself... and not give up the seat.

Having a bad day is not the same as someone suffering from clinically diagnosed depression. I won't sit in those seats and will always give up a normally placed seat to a lady of any age and anyone who clearly needs to sit down. Manners cost nothing. Those priority seats are there for a reason... please be a bit more respectful. I mean you don't make calls on the train do you? You respect that aspect of Japanese train travel yes?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I won't sit in those seats*

I will sit in priority seats if they are empty and there is no one around who needs them. At the same time, I will remain on the look our for an elderly or handicapped person. If someone in need does come along, I will of course give up the seat.

If I am sitting in a non-priority seat I will also give up my seat if necessary.

These are my manners.

But IMHO, someone with clinically diagnosed depression can stand up.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If someone in need does come along, I will of course give up the seat.

How will you judge if that person is in need? Will they have a label? It's better to just not sit in those seats... that way you won't feel GUILTY about sitting while someone who may not look like they need it actually does need it. Better to err on the side of caution.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If someone in need does come along, I will of course give up the seat.

As Thunderbird mentioned, you can't always tell that a person needs the seat. I had a friend who blew out his knee and couldn't stand for long, and he told me that he got stuck many times in this position.

Now that all said, I'll sit in priority seats as long as there is at least one other seat empty, so that someone who needs to sit down can. After all they are priority seats - the people who need them get priority. But if someone sits in the empty seat, I'll stand, to leave one empty (although someone often just sits in it after I get up).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@bjohnson23 not everyone with physical disability looks handicapped, is in a wheelchair or uses a walker. They have to have a doctor's approval to get a handicapped sticker in the usa and i'm sure japan has similar requirements. Showing her disability card should have been enough. Being told she doesn't look handicapped is insulting. My Mom has a degenerative bone disease and she will get eventually be in a wheelchair. There is no cure for it. All they can do is pain management. She has a handicapped sticker. But because she is not yet in a wheelchair she gets dirty looks when using handicapped spaces. My sister is in her 20's, she has a heart problem that means she cant walk or stand for long and has a handicapped sticker. She doesn't look sick according to your standards she should be allowed to use the handicapped spaces. I hope you are never in need of those spots someday and face the kind of discrimination you are showing others. You shouldn't have to justify or explain your disability to strangers. If you qualify for the card and show it when needed that should be enough.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

choiwaruoyaji the lady has a heart condition not depression. In any case it is up to a doctor to make the determination and not just anyone.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

first time i have ever agreed with Yuri.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Not everyone is perfect all the time. The older man's snap value judgment was wrong, but serious threat of loss of face meant that he could not then apologize.

The best he could do, and it obviously sounded weird, was well, you don't look handicapped. Lame to say the least. (Ambulatorily challenged?) And thus he dug his own grave.

If indeed this episode ever took place as was said above.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I would have complemented the old git on hid demeanor, and would suggest to help him find his brain.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Young people fake their sleeping rather than giving up their seat.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@YuriOtani

Please read the article properly before commenting.

It also mentions "anxiety disorders."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've never understood why young peope get all the flak for lack of consideration on trains. In my experience, it's almost always a salaryman, fifties and over, manspreading over two seats, picking his nose, yawning noisily stale coffee and fag breath, furiously keeping his eyes squeezed tight to make sure he can't see the people he should be standing for.

I see young people stand several times a week. Never seen an oyaji do it once, in 15+ years of riding the subway.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

When a young person sits next to me and within an instant is bobbing his greasy head into my should I let him have a verbal beating. It is impossible to fall asleep that fast and then fake sleeping to not let others sit.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When a young person sits next to me and within an instant is bobbing his greasy head into my should I let him have a verbal beating. It is impossible to fall asleep that fast and then fake sleeping to not let others sit.

They have ulterior motives

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I suffer from Sciatica and Iliopsoas damage from a motorcycle accident many many years ago here in Japan. I am constantly have to tell people why I walk so slow, in Tokyo. I always get the angry mumble "You walk too slow" from people in Japanese. My response is "I understand Japanese and I have a disability thanks to incompetent doctors here in Japan." (of course said in Japanese.)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Even people who have a mobility aid get harassed. I'm 40 with a walker. I have been accused of faking, stealing it from someone. I've had to stand up with my walker on the bus because people wouldn't give up their seat or if I ask I get attitude. Here they have something called paratransit where they pick you up at home and take you where you want to go. Even though I'm on disability, I cannot get it without a doctor filling it out. And because my past doctors don't believe me except for my rheumatologists that diagnosed me. I had physical therapy and everything. Now I can't get anything to help, not even medicine. My pain is off the charts but I have to suffer with it. And on top of that I lost everyone because of it because I'm lazy. So I struggle as a single mother with no help besides my daughter. I got yelled at for sleeping during the day and it's just depression. You would be depressed too if you had to live like this. When the pain is this bad, you don't sleep. And no matter how much I share articles about what I'm going through, I'm still a liar with nothing wrong. Only time people believe me is when I'm crying in pain which I did today and I think the hotel was worried I was going to die.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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