Invisibility out of my control

I have an invisibility cloak. You think I’m joking, but I guarantee it. I will show you how it works any time you like. The only problem is, I can’t control when it operates – someone else always does that.

Let me tell you about it.

My brother Brian and I had just bought our first car. It was a blue Chrysler Galant. It was five years old, with a few miles (yes they were miles when that car was made) on the clock, but we thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. We never missed an opportunity to take it for a spin.

I had been asked by a social club in Wollongong to give a presentation to their afternoon meeting on people with disabilities. So Brian and I decided to drive. For him, four or so hours behind the wheel of our little beauty was worth the tedium of listening to one of my presentations.

I spoke about the importance of including people with disabilities in all aspects of society, and how disability was just one part of our lives. I encouraged people to focus on the person, not the disability, and to ask if assistance was needed rather than making assumptions (often negative) about what we couldn’t do, and acting on those assumptions. During question time I reinforced these points, and commented how critical it was to talk to the person themselves rather than about them.

At the end of the meeting we were invited to afternoon tea, and were happy to partake of the excellent cakes and biscuits on offer. One of our hosts approached me, and said to Brian who was standing right next to me, “Would Graeme prefer tea or coffee?”

I winced in disappointment, given that my presentation had referred to talking to the person, not about them. However, “coffee” was Brian’s calm reply.

“Does he take milk,” she asked.

“Yes,” Brian replied.

“And what about sugar,” she continued.

“Two sugar’s please,” was his calm response.

In contrast my temperature was rising, steam was beginning to trickle from my ears, and I was planning the tongue-lashing he would receive during the drive home.

“By the way,” Brian said with a wry smile, as our host was about to leave with the coffee order “would you like me to drink it for him as well?”

Suitably chastened, she apologised to me, and my recompense was an excellent cup of coffee, and an extra lamington. She worked out the way to my heart.

My invisibility cloak had been in evidence. She had switched it on as she walked up to Brian and I.

This is a regular occurrence. It happens in shops. I walk up to the counter with my wife or daughter, indicate to the sales assistant what I want to purchase, and they immediately start talking to the person with me. Or often, they will hand my goods or my change to that person, despite me standing there with my hand out.

It happens in restaurants – when the only advantage of my invisibility cloak is that the bill usually gets delivered to the person with whom I am dining rather than me.

It happens on aeroplanes. On one memorable occasion my wife was scolded by a flight attendant for letting me use the business class rather than the economy class toilet.

And it happens to people with other disabilities as well. People who use wheelchairs often find themselves being discussed – in their presence – as if they were a package or simply not there.

I’m told that this invisibility cloak is also worn by women of a certain age, who can stand in shops for ages waiting for attention, whilst men and younger women are served.

I wouldn’t mind having an invisibility cloak if I could switch the damn thing on and off myself. It would be pretty useful when I wanted to walk between my family and the television screen, or to pop across to the bar or buffet table for that second cake or fifth beer.

But I’ve lost the remote control. It’s attached to the cloak somehow, but always seems to fall into the hands of the person with whom I am seeking to deal, rather than into my hands.

Why does this happen to people with disabilities? We’re not any more difficult to talk with than the rest of society, once you get started. In fact, some of us are quite engaging people.

It’s really a demonstration of the way people with disabilities are viewed by society. Either people are afraid to talk to us because of the stigma that goes with our disability. Or they just can’t be bothered; viewing us as less than equals. Not everyone does it, but my invisibility cloak is regularly in evidence.

What do you think are the reasons for this behaviour? How might we change it? I would welcome your comments.

Graeme Innes is excited by the possible alternative uses of his invisibility cloak if he can only find that remote control, and is geeky enough to think that someone might have developed an app. by which he could control it. He can often be found wandering the corridors of the app. store carefully reading product descriptions.

9 thoughts on “Invisibility out of my control

  1. Hi Graeme, I’m Damian. First I have to say I loved your sign off on twitter, and thanks for all the fish, my favorite movie.
    I also have to say you inspired me, even brought a tear to my eye while I watched you on the ABC Press Gallery, I hung on every word.

    I have full sight so I am replying to your Invisibility cloak discussion from that point of view.
    I can remember when I was going to school by bus way back in the 70’s, there was a guy who used to catch the same bus. I was amazed at how he just did it. No dog no one else to assist. I wasn’t the most punctual kid at school so I didn’t always ride on the same bus.
    When I think back, I think I was unsure how to understand his blindness. I was young and no one really taught you how to understand people who have differences to me. Back then I just expected everyone would be the same as me.

    I have since worked with Vision Australia in IT and worked with a programmer who had no monitor and wore headphones. He actually cut code and it was amazing to see how he did it. He had the speech function reading every word but it was at such a fast rate I could barely understand the speech.

    I used to be at the entrance to the IT section, so when he came in he would often walk in to the barrier. I have to admit that I chuckled when he did it as I usually had my back to the door and when I would hear the bump he would just shrug it off and walk to his desk. If I heard him enter I would offer to help but I had this dilemma, was I being rude or condescending as he got all the way to work without my help. I really enjoyed chatting to him.

    My dilemma when talking to people with blindness is which eye do I look at or where should I look? What I ended up practicing was to look at the persons eyes as I do with anyone and understand that there eye expressions are not necessarily part of their body language.

    I wonder if people who cloak you do it because they can’t make eye contact so don’t know how to behave. A person who understands might be inclined to touch you on the arm to propose to shake hands but others with vision would consider this as invading their personal space. This brings me back to my comment earlier about never being taught and just thinking everyone is just like me (god help us!)

    I think we need people like yourself to help others to understand, to educate and to ask the “system” to educate the public, starting with school children.
    I hope I have not offended anyone with my response. I am open to learning, improving and how to work with others.

    PS. When I submitted this comment I lost everything and spent the next 3 hours finding a way to decrypt the Goggle Chrome Cache so I could submit it what I originally wrote.

    1. I don’t want to speak for Graeme (loved your writing in this piece, Graeme), but I think you just proved his point.

      Why don’t you ask the people with vision impairment, rather than asking somebody else? They’re the ones who are going to best know the answer, and they’re not a homogeneous group – they are not all going to have the same answers.

      Whilst you’re at it…you’re clearly an intelligent guy who has internet access. How about doing some research on disabilities, accessibility, and behaving as though people with disabilities are actually, yanno, people, and don’t have invisibility cloaks to ensure that you’re doing it right? There’s lots of info out there, don’t make people with disability responsible for your education 🙂

      1. Making an assumption about a person you know nothing about could be considered as the Invisibility cloak at work.
        There are many forms of disabilities.

  2. I am in the midst of going from invisible illness to visible illness, including use of a wheelchair when out and about. And my husband, family and I are navigating the new invisibility cloak I seem to have acquired in the process. It’s strange to see the change in people’s behaviour. I’m either not there, or must be spoken to like I am 5 years old. Not sure which is worse. My family are more likely to say something, whereas I’m more likely to sit and stew on it. It seems that people have no idea how to talk to me, as if the chair adds a whole level of confusion as to who I am and how to deal with me. And that leads to a weird kind of fear. They over-process the situation and the easy default is to speak over my head to my husband or sons. Disability is still alien and many simply don’t understand that they can speak directly to the person. I really like the Scope ads from the UK which deal with a lot of this and I’d love to see a similar media blitz here. It is a society-wide issue and I’ve found even medical professionals who should know better, act in the same manner.

    Ps if you find the remote control or the app, I’d buy that 😉

  3. Hi Graeme, and thanks for a a witty and incisive blog. I had tears in my eyes as I watched your National Press Club speech. You have been an amazing advocate for people with disabilities for many years – I would hate to think your talents are lost to the nation just because the current government downgraded such a pivotal role.

    I am a woman of “that certain age” of whom you spoke – and yes, I too seem to wear a cloak of invisibility with astonishing regularity. This, combined with several chronic conditions that keep me housebound and limit my income and social life, means the cloak is all but rusted on most of the time.

    I have realised something though: the people who CAN see me are usually the ones most worth knowing anyway. They’re the most perceptive, and the best listeners. The rest are too full of the busyness of their daily existence. Maybe being ‘invisible’ has its benefits!

  4. So true Graeme Using a wheelchair for mobility I have worn the cloak of invisibility for a lifetime but astoundingly now as an older person I find that the cloak of invisibility has been joined by the cone of silence. Cannot wait for whatever comes next it should make life even more interesting. PS don’t forget to pass on the control APP when you find it.

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