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Canadian woman with epilepsy calls for better disability signage on public transport

A young woman who has seizures is asking the public transport system in British Columbia, TransLink, to update its priority seating signage to reflect the needs of people with invisible disabilities. 

Tavia Marlatt from Surrey, British Columbia, experiences major seizures, causing her to black out and fall to the ground. She uses the seats marked for people with disabilities to prevent getting injured. 

"I get the nastiest looks from everybody because I'm 19 and just by looking at me, you can't tell that I have a disability," Ms Marlatt said.

"There's not enough room in the back to have a grand mal seizure without getting hurt." 

Ms Marlatt relies on public transport to get around every day; drivers must not be seizure-free in Canada for at least a year to get behind the wheel, but she has a major seizure about every two weeks.

To accommodate the needs of people like her, Ms Marlatt is asking TransLink to put up signs with the international medical symbol — a mark she has tattooed on her arm — alongside the wheelchair symbol.

She says the current sign implies a person must have a physical disability to use the priority seating. 

In a written response, TransLink said Ms Marlatt's request serves as a reminder to all passengers that many disabilities are invisible. 

"We urge all our customers to be kind and considerate to their fellow passengers," said TransLink. 

It also said it has increased the number of priority seating signs but did not, however, specifically address whether it would accept Ms Marlatt's request. 

Ms Marlatt says her ultimate goal is to create a better understanding of invisible disabilities among transit users and the general public. 

"I would just really hope that people put more of an effort into learning about non-physical disabilities," she said. 

She said her last experience having a seizure on the bus came as a shock — she woke up lying on the floor with the door repeatedly closing on her head.

"Literally nobody tried to help me. They just stood there and watched," she said.  "I was very upset with our society for not helping a youth having a medical issue."

She has sat in the priority seating area ever since then, despite the dirty looks. 

Juliet Ashton, Epilepsy Society's Sapphire nurse consultant for epilepsy commissioning said: “Epilepsy is an unpredictable condition, there can be very little warning, if any, when a seizure is going to happen. People with epilepsy are constantly having to risk assess for that ‘just in case’ situation, hence the need for priority seating to give them space and access for emergency assessment/treatment , in case they have a seizure. Until they do they can blend into the general population going about their travels."

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Read Epilepsy Society's travel information here