(Ben Claassen III/For Express)

Over the holidays, Metro placed more than 1,000 new signs by the entrances of trains and buses. One of them reads, “Who needs this seat? You’d be surprised.” Carly Medosch was certainly surprised when she spotted it Monday on her Red Line commute.

The message of the public service announcement is exactly what the 33-year-old Silver Spring resident promotes through her advocacy work: “Not all disabilities are visible.” In Medosch’s case, Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia force her to deal with fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

But other people can’t discern that just by looking at her. So they’re unlikely to realize that she sometimes needs an easily accessible place to sit.

This is the problem with Metro’s priority seating. Those interior-facing benches boast the best legroom, which makes them attractive to many riders — especially guys guilty of “manspreading,” with their thighs splayed out to the sides. So folks use them just like any other seat, and only reluctantly pop up if someone hobbles on board with a cane.

Metro’s new campaign (the first to address the issue since 2009) is a reminder that these seats are exclusively for people who need them, and should be kept empty to allow people with disabilities to take advantage of them without being forced into uncomfortable confrontations.

It’s stressful to have to request that someone move (or just pick up a bag), says Medosch, who’s known even pregnant women to get rebuffed.

Although she’s never had a bad run-in on Metro, she’s experienced pushback using her car’s disability tag: “People will shout at you and question you. I don’t want to have to show my medical records to strangers.”

The idea of emphasizing that you can’t always recognize impairments came from input provided by Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, says spokesman Dan Stessel.

And while the signs are linked specifically to the priority seating, their message is something that Cleveland Park resident Pamela Ehrenberg, 42, hopes passengers think about throughout their rides. Her late husband had several cancer complications, including limited peripheral vision. So his concern wasn’t necessarily where to sit, but whether he’d get shoved in a crowded car.

These signs may not adjust seating patterns, but Ehrenberg thinks they have the potential to shift attitudes: “This goes the extra step of opening people’s minds as to what is a disability.”

And that’s a pretty good sign.

 

Read previous columns:

Jingle all the way: Reasons for cyclists, pedestrians and bus riders to cheer

Signs of the time: RideDC and Transit Screen’s Smart Walk

What to buy your car-free friends for the holidays