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.