Dealing with assumptions
I often forget I have a disability. But sometimes I am reminded I have a disability because of what people think about me. I once went to lunch with my mum and cousin. The waitress asked my mum if I was allowed a glass of wine. The waitress thought I could not make decisions for myself, that I was not an independent person. Another time at a pub, a woman I was speaking to assumed I was friends with another person who arrived in a wheelchair. She assumed all people in wheelchairs know each other.
Posted by: Rachel Croucher, on 20/03/12
The right to socialise without judgement.
I often forget I'm disabled. This might sound ridiculous because I have a high-level spinal cord injury that left me in a wheelchair, but it's true. I forget because I have amazing family and friends. I forget because my work and study environments are comprised of understanding and encouraging individuals. It only strikes me I am disabled when confronted with the occasional ill-formed assumption.
We can't think for ourselves
I remember once going for lunch with my mother, aunt, and intellectually disabled cousin. After taking everyone's order, the waitress arrived at me. It was 3 p.m. so I figured it wasn't too early to have a glass of wine with my foccacia. The waitress looked uneasily at my mother. My mother confusedly nodded back in my direction.
The waitress looked back at my mother and nervously asked
Is she allowed?
With a puzzled look my mother responded,
Sorry, allowed what?
Um, the wine?
My mother rolled her eyes and gestured back to me
She ordered it, didn't she?
So I got my wine, and the foccacia was glorious.
This incident was two years after the accident which caused my injury. I brushed it off because I had never experienced anything like it in the community. I couldn't be bothered wasting any mental energy on it so I chalked it up to experience.
We all know each other
The next assumptive
incident in the community occurred a couple of years later. A girlfriend of mine decided she would undertake a social experiment. She had heard me occasionally mention the difficulty of wheelchair accessibility to buildings and crossing streets. Her solution? Buying a wheelchair on eBay without telling me. She then attempted to see the world as I do by getting about town in one. That's a story for another day too.
At the time I had organised a girls' night out. I told all those coming to bring another friend. The more the merrier. We gathered in a cosy Carlton beer garden. I got talking to the friend-of-a-friend I had never met. She was quite lovely. Engaging, intelligent, funny. A few hours passed so all those present figured no-one else could make it.
I had my back to the entrance so I didn't see my friend arrive. The girl I had been talking to suddenly said,
Oh, your friend is over there. And there she was, in all her cheap eBay metal splendour and rainbow socks. I laughed until I nearly cried, and she navigated her way to our table. I then thought to myself, Wait a minute, why would someone assume that all people who use wheelchairs are friends with each other?
I am neither angry nor upset about these two incidences. I am lucky such events are rare in my world. Also, in the scheme of things, they were not that bad. I am simply puzzled. Neither the waitress nor the friend-of-the-friend were being cruel. They simply didn't understand. I question whose responsibility it is to educate such individuals. Do I have an answer for that yet? Not really.
I'm trying though.
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