A blind student was horrified after he heard a mum told her young child their disability was a punishment for wrongs committed in a previous life.
Kelsey Trevett was travelling back home to Watford from London Euston on Monday afternoon on the train when the stranger made the unpleasant comment.
The 19-year-old said the child – who they estimated was aged around 3 or 4 – had asked why he had a cane after getting into the carriage.
“It was a direct explanation….[she said] because he’s blind and must have done something wrong in a past life. And if you don’t start behaving then the same will happen to you,” Kelsey told the Mirror.
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“I don’t think that’s an ignorant comment, I think that’s quite pointed,” they said.
“There’s definitely a right way to answer that question and there’s definitely a wrong way. I think we found the wrong one.”
The University of Oxford undergraduate said the mother and child were only a few seats away and she didn’t appear to care if they heard.
“There’s this perception…general stereotype that people who are disabled can’t hear or think for themselves or whatever,” they explained.
“I don’t know if that’s an underlying assumption.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that I couldn’t hear them, it definitely wasn’t far enough for that.”
Kelsey – who usually travels with a guide dog but was returning from holiday so was alone – said they often hear subtle remarks about their “quite identifiable” condition but often puts them down to ignorance “rather than intent to offend”.
But the assuredness of the woman’s statement had left them concerned.
“It’s very rare to get something that explicit, that direct,” they said.
“As a person who is always willing to give the benefit of the doubt, that’s not something that comes off backhandedly, that’s something she’s either thought about or [it’s come from] somewhere more rooted.
“The framing of how she said it removed any of my autonomy, any sense that I am a person living my own life and doing my thing.”
After telling people about the incident since, Kelsey said they’ve been told “I hope you stood up for yourself”.
“I was fully prepared to I just had no idea how to respond. For a couple of minutes I was thinking ‘have I interpreted this right?’
“No, that’s definitely what she said.”
“I’m fairly confident when it comes to standing up for myself but I was kind of more shocked,” they added.
Kelsey – who is co-chairman of the Young Greens of England and Wales – went on to say he believes while perception of disabilities has changed so much during their lifetime, “there’s still a long way to go”.
Asked what they would tell the woman and her child if they could, they said: “Firstly, that’s a completely inaccurate thing to say and completely untrue and unfounded.
“But also [I would want] to encourage people to see that this isn’t a punishment in the slightest – disability is not a punishment.
“It’s not something that’s decreased my quality of life…to frame disability in those terms as making your life worse or making you somehow less of a person or less worthy of personhood, is a really damaging thing to say.”
They said it’s important that education allows children to see disability as another aspect that makes a person unique because “everyone is different”.
Kelsey believes more representation of disability groups is also needed across society, including in workplaces.
“The employment gap for people in the UK, for example, is huge.
“So not having those people in the workplace means that they are not represented, seen as less competent, less employable and I think it’s things like that that can perpetuate these stereotypes.”
“Not enough is being done to resolve that,” they added.