That’s the hardest part of the condition – you can’t always see MS in a person
Edinburgh commuter Ian talks about life with multiple sclerosis
Ian has multiple sclerosis (MS) and has lived in Edinburgh for six years. In those six years he has been on our services fairly regularly as a commuter travelling to and from work.
MS is a condition that affects your brain and spinal cord. In MS, the coating that protects your nerves (myelin) is damaged, which causes a range of symptoms affecting vision, balance and mobility, memory and cognitive processes, and emotions.
Ian was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS ten years ago. This means that Ian’s condition is worsening over time, and the MS ‘attacks’ are happening more and more frequently. Even so, he still manages to get about on his own two feet, with the help of a walking stick.
Unable to drive, and when his wife is unavailable to drive him, Ian relies on our buses. He would preferably be driven when he has to leave the house, but has no fears or inhibitions about using the bus.
He hasn’t been on a bus throughout most of the pandemic. Ian used the bus at the start of the first lockdown, however because of his weakened immune system due to his MS, he has a higher chance of suffering serious illness if he was to contract the coronavirus.
“I didn’t get an official letter to shield,” Ian explains, “but I thought I’d apply a little common sense and decided that it was best to shield throughout the first lockdown.”
In a previous job, Ian was a regular user of our buses, and talks of the challenges he faced when getting the bus every day.
“The experience on the bus was on a whole quite positive,” he says, “however personally, I could feel it was getting to the stage it was physically challenging for me. The bus was always full, and it wasn’t guaranteed I would get a seat.
“Nor was it often that a passenger, normally school children at that time in the morning, would offer me their seat.”
For Ian, getting the bus became more of an ‘ordeal’ than it should have been. His ‘old-school’ values – as he puts it – would’ve seen him offer his seat to anyone he deemed required it more.
However, those same values weren’t always reciprocated for him, and made travel very difficult for him due to his worsening condition.
“It didn’t help my day,” Ian explains. “Physically and mentally I was under a lot of stress. I didn’t have the energy for it really.”
Another challenge for Ian is his status as a ‘disabled person.’ He’s had a walking stick all the way through his MS journey, but doesn’t consider himself to be disabled, even though legally he would be recognised as such.
“I just get on with my life really,” Ian states. “I’ll have some flare ups from time to time, but that’s really the only time I do have trouble. If it weren’t for George [his walking stick] you wouldn’t think I was disabled.”
Hidden disabilities such as MS are hard to recognise, that’s their nature. Ian has days where he doesn’t feel any effects whatsoever form his condition. Other days, sadly, Ian is often physically strained due to the MS, and he struggles to cope when he does encounter flare ups.
“That’s the hardest part of the condition,” he explains. “People would see me and think there’s nothing wrong with me. “But if they dig deeper and hear you’ve got MS, they appear shocked, because they can’t see MS on someone’s body.”
Despite this, Ian believes that awareness around MS and other hidden disabilities is improving in society and that although more work has to be done, it is positive that this awareness is growing in today’s world.
Some of the work that needs to be done, he believes, is awareness for bus drivers and customers on buses. Ian revealed that on numerous occasions he was asked to give up his priority seat on the bus because the driver thought there was nothing wrong with him.
He says: “I’d just like everyone to treat each other the same, and to question less and understand more.
“I’ve got a saltire card [National Entitlement Card] for travel and I’ve been questioned that I’m not eligible for that because they can’t see my disability. It would be helpful if people were more compassionate, but it is getting better and awareness is starting to improve.”
Despite his positive outlook that things awareness is improving, Ian still thinks there are a few situations that may not ever be resolved as part of everyday life on buses.
“Commonly, the biggest problems I’ve had are when someone boards the bus with a pushchair,” he says. “Sometimes I’ve had to move from the fold up seats on the newer buses due to this. I don’t think people are aware of who has the priority in those situations.”
In law, disabled people have priority when it comes to accessible spaces. However, if the space is already taken, all the driver can do is ask the person sitting there to move.
Lothian is committing to raising awareness across the business of hidden disabilities, and are aware that most of the time, those sitting in priority seats are using them correctly and sitting there for a reason.
Unfortunately, Ian has had some more negative experiences while attempting to use the buses. He cites being refused travel when using a wheelchair on a few occasions, despite finding that the priority space wasn’t in use on attempting to board the vehicle.
Despite this though, Ian has enjoyed positive experiences when travelling on our services and believes the majority of Lothian’s drivers and customers are extremely kind and hospitable.
Ian believes Edinburgh is “lucky” to have a bus service like Lothian. “We’re incredibly spoiled for choice in Edinburgh when it comes to the bus service.” Ian says. “In my area, I can take a few different buses into town which is handy for me.
“I’ve even got old ladies offering me their seat!” Ian laughs. “I’m used to offering older passengers a seat if they need one, so I was touched when the reverse happened to me.”
In a post-Covid world, Ian – like everyone else – is looking forward to being able to get out and about. He can’t wait to be able to go into Edinburgh city centre again to explore the high street.
To do this, he’ll be relying on our buses again.
“Although more can be done by everyone when it comes to accessibility, we are extremely fortunate in Edinburgh to have our bus service.”
Our thanks go to Ian for speaking about his experiences with us.
Lothian remains committed to providing an efficient, world class bus service for the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians. Within that commitment, we reiterate that our buses are for everyone. We would like to remind customers that not all disabilities are visible, and for a variety of reasons some of our customers cannot wear a face covering during their essential journey. Please be kind and considerate while on our buses.
If you’d like to find out more about multiple sclerosis, please visit the MS Society website.