An education campaign about courtesy/priority seating signs on transportation vehicles

September 14, 2012 Suzanne Cohen Share



In the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, there is the Standard for Transportation.


Under this standard there is a section about courtesy seating in vehicles, specifically for people with disabilities. The regulation states that conventional transportation service must provide clearly marked courtesy seating for people with disabilities. Recently, the Province of Ontario has proposed amendments to change the word courtesy seating to priority seating. Since this change is not yet law, the rest of this blog will refer to courtesy seating.

Anyone can use courtesy seating until a person with a disability requests the seat. The standard further states that:

The courtesy seating for persons with disabilities shall be signed to indicate that passengers, other than persons with disabilities, must vacate the courtesy seating if its use is required by a person with a disability.


Every conventional transportation service provider shall develop a communication strategy designed to inform the public about the purpose of courtesy seating.

Moreover, transit authorities in Ontario must place a sign about vacating courtesy seating when required by a person with a disability and have a public education campaign.

I would love to see the signs authorities throughout the province have determined as appropriate. My idea for a pictorial is to at least have a nondescript person rising from the seat and place a big smile on the person’s face. Why the smile?

Because people with disabilities have too often expressed receiving hostile glares when people are asked to move. Even if people do not want to smile while moving, everyone should place that smile on their face to provide an accepting environment for people with disabilities. No one blames people who do not qualify as having a disability for being aggravated if they are not pleased to stand for too long.

Unfortunately, an education campaign is necessary. After riding public transit as a young teenager using crutches for a year, I could not believe how during rush hour, people did not offer a seat. In that dark time, there was no courtesy seating. Prior to life with crutches, men were courteous and freely offered their seat. As a teenager I presumed I would be able to continue working, travel with crutches, and that offers from others to vacate a seat when I needed one would be natural. I was wrong.

I was flying all over vehicles, trying to grip a handhold, and only rarely did someone offer his or her seat. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to grip anything, hold a purse and keep crutches in place on a moving jerking vehicle? People must have thought, well, she is young. Well, she had an operation where falling was not on the agenda but she needed to continue working. I am sure many readers have similar stories.

The teenager with crutches was truly surprised that no one cared about her personal plight. She tried to stare with begging eyes at someone who seemed physically fit and still received no response. Eventually, the teenager just picked someone young and asked the person for the seat. She was never refused but it was a startling experience that few people offered their seat.

I fully understand why there needs to be designated seating to clearly designate certain seating for people who really require these seats just to travel.

In a kinder gentler world, people would automatically offer to vacate a seat, at least to a person with a visible disability. It did not happen in my experience with crutches, and people have to be told politely to vacate specific seating. I’d like to add my suggestion “please exit with a smile”. If this symbol does not work, then let us consider using some dark humour to motivate attention to those signs. Believe me when I say, nothing was more disturbing than to see people avert their eyes, pretend I did not exist and hope I would not ask for their seat. Eons later, the memories are still vivid about deciding to ask someone for a seat.

It is nice to see we are moving forward with designating signs, and an education campaign. The teenager in me wants to playfully use dark humour with the signs, but the adult knows asking people to smile when vacating courtesy seating is enough for now. If people still do not get the message, my hidden inner teenager has a few more suggestions.

Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A., CEO
Access (SCS) Consulting Services

About Access (SCS) Consulting
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