Standing up for stroke-survivors (and the not-obviously disabled)

If you’ve ever heard me do one of my talks about stroke-awareness, you’ve probably heard me mention the girl I know in London who had a stroke when she was just 14 years old - a stroke that was caused by too many high-energy drinks.

Well, that stroke happened to Jade Driscoll-Batchelor seven years ago this week. Like me, she survived this particular brush with death (like me, she’s had several) and is now a bright, happy, cheerful (most of the time…) young woman who does a lot to make people aware of strokes and why they happen. We share the same taste for body art and loud music, summed up in this by Papa Roach (which Stefan Thomas will probably appreciate).

Jade certainly isn’t the youngest person I’ve heard of to suffer a stroke - a business acquaintance of mine lost his three-year-old son to a stroke and the Stroke Association will tell you of instances of babies in the womb suffering strokes - but like me, she is not afraid to talk about what happened and why it happened in an effort to raise awareness of the fact that strokes can happen to anyone of any age at any time. The 100,000 people every year who suffer a stroke in this country (a figure which is climbing as our lifestyles become more pressured) aren’t all 80-year-old pensioners, you know.

Mine was caused by work-stress; Jade’s was due to high-caffeine energy drinks. I know a lady whose stroke was as a result of hormones produced in pregnancy. Strokes can happen for all sorts of reasons to all kinds of people yet the amount of money spent on medical research into the causes of stroke is ridiculously small compared to other conditions. That is partly, of course, because of limited resources, but the more effort that people like Jade and I put into raising awareness of stroke, the better.

Talking of raising awareness, the thorny issue of priority seating for disabled people on public transport crossed my radar again this week. I walk with a stick because my balance is so uncertain, especially in crowded public spaces, so I am easily identifiable as disabled and it is true that people are only too willing to give up seats on buses and trains for me, to move bags off empty seats (something which is a constant issue on public transport anyway), or to usher me into a ‘priority seat’.

But what about those who are not ‘visibly’ disabled? An increasing effort is being made to raise awareness of the fact that ‘not every disability is visible’ particularly with signs on the doors of ‘disabled’ toilets. But what about priority seats on public transport where a person’s disability might not be obvious? This week, I met a lady who has a serious heart condition, although you wouldn’t know it at first sight. She gets easily tired, needs to sit down regularly and standing up for long periods on crowded buses is not a good idea.

Is she disabled? You might think so, I certainly think so; But the young man who refused to move three suitcases from a priority seat on a bus for her this week obviously doesn’t. Nor does the bus-driver who felt it was more than his job was worth to get involved and (excuse the pun) stand up for this lady.

At a time when campaigns for individual rights to do this, that and the other are becoming ever more outlandish, can’t basic human dignity and good manners be important?