Picture the scene. It’s been a lengthy cab ride to the airport for my guide dog and I. The driver and I have chatted. We have agreed on politics and sport, but expressed different views on the weather and choice of radio stations. Situation normal.
The traffic hasn’t been too bad, so I’m in plenty of time for my flight. And I know a good cup of coffee awaits on the other side of airport security. Life is ok.
I pay the fare, and am about to get out when I ask the driver to tell me where the entrance is. Cabs can pull up along the front of the terminal, so I like to get some broad direction.
“it’s just over there,” he says, as I feel his arm raised in front of my face to point.
How do I respond? Do I just get out, not having the information I need? Do I ask him to tell me again, because my dog wasn’t watching where he pointed? Do I explain that I can’t see the direction of his digit?
“Pointing doesn’t work for me,” I say, “is it behind or in front of the car.”
“It’s right there,” he replies, pointing again. His physical action showing that he has not got the point.
I get out defeated, hoping my dog will find the way. Which she usually does. She’s a labrador, not a pointer.
This is a regular experience for me. Many people have trouble giving clear directions.
“It’s to your right,” they say confidently, when they mean left.
“You turn left here,” they say, when they mean go straight for another five metres and then turn left. I try to smile as I brush the dust from my clothes, having turned left immediately and walked into a wall or a tree.
But my favourite is “It’s just there,” as I imagine there finger pointing confidently in a direction which I cannot determine.
Perhaps I should reach out and grab their arm, encourage them to hold it steady while I track it down past elbow and wrist, and – using touch – determine the direction in which I should travel. If I could find there arm, that is, without grabbing various other more inappropriate sections of clothing or anatomy.
Perhaps I should train my guide dog to watch carefully, and point her nose in the direction shown by their finger. My dog is good, but that may be above her pay scale.
But until then, or when the penny drops for those who resort to the directional digit, I will continue with my life, not getting the point.
Graeme Innes is a Don’t DIS my ABILITY ambassador, lawyer and disability rights activist. He was Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner from December 2005 to July 2014. He now Chairs the Attitude Foundation which uses story-telling and the media to change attitudes about people with disabilities, because changing attitudes changes lives.
This article was originally published in “Made You Look” the Don’t Dis My Ability campaign publication.