While a bus driver was following his usual route around the city of Paris, Francois Le Berre, a wheelchair user, attempted to board his bus. And when passengers refused to make room, the driver decided to punish them in a perfect way.
Making your way around in a wheelchair isn’t always easy, and in this instance Le Berre was traveling within the outskirts of a city. Public transport can be a great way to get around, of course, but it isn’t perfect for everybody.
Le Berre is a disabled wheelchair user, and issues relating to accessibility have to be considered when someone in his condition travels by public transport. In this case, though, his disability almost stopped him from boarding a bus.
The Frenchman suffers from multiple sclerosis, which is an autoimmune condition that impedes sufferers’ ability to move. It’s thought to affect around two million people globally. Other symptoms include problems with sight, muscle strength and numbness.
On 18 October, 2018, Le Berre and his brother were in the French suburb of Porte de Clichy, just outside the center of Paris. The pair of them were waiting for a bus, but little did they know how their journey would unfold.
Although Le Berre’s condition could sometimes restrict his transport options, buses in this area usually have room for at least one wheelchair. And those people who are already on a bus should move out of the way if necessary to accommodate wheelchair users.
However, even though passengers are supposed to give priority to wheelchair users, in practice this isn’t always the case. Le Berre, for example, experienced hostility when he attempted to board the bus that day.
When the bus pulled up outside the bus stop that Le Berre and his brother were standing at, the driver put the access ramp in place. Despite this, though, the bus passengers refused to give Le Berre the space he needed.
“Yesterday, while waiting for the bus in Paris, I laughed because no one wanted to budge,” Berre told the Huffington Post in October 2018. “When nobody moved, the driver got up and said, ‘Terminus! Everybody off the bus!’”
The driver had decided to punish his passengers for not moving – and that wasn’t all. “After that, the driver came to see me and said, ‘You and your helper, you can get on, and the others, you can wait for the next one!’” Le Berre continued.
Once the passengers had all left the bus, the driver spoke to Le Berre and his brother. And the conversation that ensued gave them an insight into why the man had acted in such a surprising and kind manner.
Le Berre told the Huffington Post that the driver had explained that any one of those passengers might have to use a wheelchair in the future. And because of that fact, he felt that they should show kindness to those who already use one.
Stopping his bus and waiting for all the passengers to get off would have delayed the driver’s journey considerably, of course. And yet he still did it, despite the fact that he’d never met Le Berre before, and none of his family are disabled, either.
This touching story was then shared on Twitter by Accessible Pour Tous, which translates to “accessibility for all.” The group describe themselves as a network that aims to defend accessibility rights for the disabled in France.
Le Berre’s story subsequently went viral and has since received more than 13,000 likes and in excess of 5,000 retweets. The post has also garnered over 400 comments from people praising the driver’s actions.
One user wrote, “A superb reaction from this bus driver,” while another added, “Bravo to the driver who emptied his bus to allow the disabled person to get on. Good lesson. I hope the other passengers understood.”
Not all bus drivers are as understanding, however. In November 2018 Lewis Thomas, aged ten, and his mother attempted to board a bus outside a children’s hospital in Brisbane, Australia, but were denied entry.
The young boy is a wheelchair user and was told by the driver that the bus didn’t have enough room, although CCTV film contradicted this. The driver subsequently attended counselling but wasn’t fired, despite the boy’s mother claiming that he’d discriminated against her son.
A similar incident took place in February 2012 in Leeds, England. Doug Paulley was unable to board a bus as a result of a mother refusing to move her pushchair from the designated wheelchair space. Paulley brought his case to the Supreme Court, though, and the judge ruled that wheelchair users must be given priority.
Even though disabled passengers continue to face discrimination, Le Berre’s story shows that one person’s kind gesture can make a real difference. Hopefully, it will make those passengers think twice about refusing to move for someone less able than themselves in the future.