A company called Metrolinx, owner of GO Transit bus system, is becoming a little more sensory-friendly to help out one of their regular riders—a man with autism who can’t stand the sound and smell of gum-chewing.
According to Liam Walshe’s legal representative, Mark Stoute, he has been diagnosed with two comorbid disorders which affect his ability to handle sounds of things like gum chewing. The first is hyperacusis, a physiological condition that gives him particularly sensitive hearing. The other is misophonia, a clinically significant dislike or intolerance of sounds. Both these disorders and Walshe’s autism make it difficult for him to be in public places where other people are making certain noises.
For the most part, Walshe gets around this issue by not going near people who are chewing gum. He may choose to walk a different path or leave a room when he sees someone with a mouthful of gum so he can maintain his composure. That isn’t always an option, however, when he has to take public transportation. If he’s stuck on a GO Transport bus and someone is chewing gum, he struggles to deal with the sounds and smells and tries hard to block them out.
Luckily, however, there are still people in the world who care about the needs of others and are willing to go out of their way to make others’ lives better. Out of respect for their loyal patron, GO Transit has asked their bus drivers to please be considerate and spit out their gum when Liam is aboard their bus.
Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins says this move is a common courtesy, similar to refraining from wearing perfume around someone who is allergic to it or not bringing certain foods around a person with severe food allergies. Walshe may have a different sort of “reaction” to gum-chewing than what most people would qualify as an allergy, but it still definitely affects his ability to function and be comfortable.
Aikins says that the new rule is in place specifically for this one passenger, but GO Transit also asks its drivers to show the same courtesy to any passenger who requests that they stop chewing gum or participating in any other potentially aggravating behavior. And hopefully this courteous behavior will be a good example to other passengers too, so that people like Walshe can comfortably have access to public transportation and other public places.
“We want everyone to be able to participate fully in society,” Aikins says. “Often that requires the use of public transit… Participating in public transit is not a privilege, it’s a right.”
Thank you, GO Transit, for standing with those who have invisible disabilities and trying to make the world a better place for everyone, particularly those who experience barriers to access that most of the world has never even considered. Our disabilities and sensitivities shouldn’t affect our ability to fully experience the world, and small kindnesses like this will go a long way to keep that from happening.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?