I find it annoying when other people are with me in public, but let me explain so you can see exactly what I mean. It is not because I do not want to spend time with people, because I absolutely do. My perfectly perplexing problem is how quickly I become invisible to others around me. I have found that if I do not speak first, I get ignored like last year’s Christmas toys pushed to the back of the closet. Here are a few examples of stories to understand my daunting dilemma.
My dad was with me at the bank as I was trying to authenticate and then close a loan account. Immediately, it started with the banker, who was ignoring me and speaking directly to my dad. Every question the banker asked, my dad looked at me, and I answered the banker like a bad three-person ping-pong match. My attitude was after my dad explained for the third time that this was not his account and he was merely transportation, yet this ping-pong game continued.
I wanted to nip this in the bud before we got further into the conversation, so I quickly spoke up loudly. Since this is my account, I asked the banker to talk to me directly. I explained how I live alone and handle my bills like a big boy, and I would prefer to keep it that way. Although I tried to be polite, I had a slightly sardonic sound in my voice. Surprise and a bitter smile smeared in condescending sympathy shown on her face after my brusque plea. However, I think she finally got my point because she apologized and took me back to a desk to talk one-on-one.
My friend Ted and his wife Amy invited me to dinner to celebrate Amy’s new job. As we waited to be seated, I received the typical looks of pathetic sympathy from several people waiting to be seated. A few kids stared at me, and I simply made funny faces and acted goofy until they laughed, as I have always been able to make kids laugh. Finally, the hostess took us back to our table, where we waited for our server to take our orders. When she arrived, Ted asked if she would take our food and drink orders right away because our group was famished.
The server took out her order pad and began scribbling as Amy gave her dinner desires. She then looked at Ted, and her pen continued to dance across the order pad as he detailed his meal request. The server finally looked back at Ted and asked him what I would like as she nodded her head in my direction. Ted quickly spoke up and told her to ask for herself because I was sitting next to her. When the server looked at me, I promptly spoke loudly in a little kid’s voice while holding a spoon in one hand and a fork in the other. I want pasghetti, I proclaimed emphatically, like the petulant child I was pretending to be. I could see the big smiles on Ted and Amy’s face, making it hard for me to keep a straight face.
The server looked flustered and, with a worried expression, said we do not have spaghetti looking back and forth between Ted and me. I could see that Amy was rifling through her purse because she was trying not to laugh and hiding it the best she could. Although I spoke loudly, it was not loud enough that the whole restaurant could hear me, while only a few tables close to us could listen to my whiny uproar. I soon chanted pasghetti, pasghetti, pasghetti, making the server flustered and teary-eyed. However, I did not want her to get weepier, so I said in a clear voice, “If you do not have spaghetti, I will have the seared salmon in the herb butter sauce.”
Amy and Ted roared with laughter as the server stood dumbfounded, not understanding what had happened. I quickly explained to the server how her actions and assumptions were demeaning and disrespectful. I shared that if she was going to work in a job requiring her to interact with the public, she needed to be more respectful and accept those with disabilities as people. It was vital, I feel, for me to show her assumptions and just how wrong they were. She apologized and explained that she had only been a server for three months and had not experienced interacting with anyone in a wheelchair. Well, now you know, I said.
I could stand on my soapbox and tell hundreds of stories like these, but I have no box of soap, nor can I stand. The truth is when in public, the guy or gal in the wheelchair often gets ignored if not shunned and chagrined, so I try to speak first and loudly to avoid the ignorance of others. I have also experienced those who speak down to me, although someone told me they simply do not know how to act. If that is the case, error on the side of respect, not neglect, disrespect, or any act of superiority. Society is getting a little better at accepting those with disabilities in everyday life, although we still have a long way to go.
Treat everyone, including the disabled, with the same respect as the CEO.