When well meaning needs to go one step further
Enjoying your outing for the day are we?
This was a question I was asked when at my local garden centre recently. One small comment but one huge indictment on society’s perceptions of disability. The guy seemed nice enough, displaying well maintained teeth in his wide, jovial smile, just another customer like me. Unlike me he wasn’t in a wheelchair, and neither was my companion, who didn’t get asked if she was enjoying a nice day out.
On a ranking of awful things to say to someone this barely makes a mark in the thoughtful-to-heinous greetings scale but two things really bothered me about this question:
- The always annoying use of the collective ‘we’ when being asked a question about ‘me’ ( this is a general habit some people have to anyone that I find irritating – excuse my pettiness ).
- The obvious inference that because I was in a wheelchair my daily outings peaked at buying worms and top soil and how lucky was I?
And this type of well intentioned comment is the perfect example of an unconscious bias towards those with a disability and what it means to be disabled.
How should we respond to unconscious bias?
So a misguided nice guy with either a conscious or unconscious disability bias saw me as inferior and unequal. Not through malice but most probably through lack of association with a person in a wheelchair or perhaps anyone with any form of disability. I get it, I haven’t always lived around disability and without that exposure it can feel uncomfortable and confusing to know the right thing to say.
But the right thing to say is as simple as employing, as part of your natural way of being, an old gold piece of sage wisdom: treat others as you would like to be treated. In other words, we are all equal and should engage with each other as such. And this doesn’t just work for interactions with a disabled person of course. We can inadvertently patronise an older person or someone from a different cultural or socio-economic background – this is also casual or unconscious bias.
So. Let’s. Just. Not.
This is why I, and thousands of others advocate for a disability inclusive society. And this is why even when I feel self-conscious or that I am being bothersome I want to make sure that I am able to access the things that I want to. And be seen by, and engage with, as many people as possible doing those things.
I, like us all, can, and do, add value to our communities and families. A simple remark like that of my fellow garden lover really does indicate a certain level of disrespect. To ameliorate this thought pattern through our community I aim to talk to, and reach as many people as possible, to inform and share and discuss my experiences, learnings and research.
In this way structural and attitudinal changes will continue to be made and we can, in all our shapes, sizes, colours, genders and abilities be truly and respectfully integrated. Until then you may see me at uni or the theatre, enjoying a meal out or at the market.
Of course I may also just be waiting for my special thirty minutes amongst the compost.
Take care and all the best for the holiday season.