Tag: toilet

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.

Captain Grumpy

Ex-Australian cricket captain Alan Border and I have something in common. No, it’s not the inate cricket ability that he had and I dream about. It’s that, sometimes, just doing your job, or living your life, as a person with a disability, can make you grumpy.

I’m sitting in an airport gate lounge, my guide dog beside me, drinking coffee, looking at twitter, and waiting for my flight to board.
“Hi, I’m Shane,” says the ground staffer as he approaches me, “We’re ready to board you now.”

I think “Why would I want to stop what I’m doing, not finish my coffee, and exchange this spacious plastic chair for a cramped airline seat ten minutes earlier than anyone else. I say “I’m happy to board with the rest of the passengers, thanks.”

“But you’re a “special” passenger,” he says. “We want to give you more time for you and your dog to settle in.”

I think “that’s code for: we want you on and out of the way before all of the others.” I say “Thank you, I don’t need any extra time.”

“But this is a legal requirement,” he says.

I think “that’s code for: I’m now going to try to bully you.”
I say “It’s actually not, and I’m very happy hear til the flight boards, thanks Shane.”

He sighs loudly, and says “Ok, all right.” and goes away.
I think: “that’s code for: what a Captain Grumpy. And I was just trying to help.”

An hour or so later-
“Sir, we’re landing in Hobart today, and there is no aerobridge. So if you just wait til last, I’ve booked the forklift to take you off the plane.”

“But it’s just my eyes that don’t work, not my legs.” I reply.

“Well, I was just trying to help,” is the unhappy response.
“And I appreciate your help, but perhaps you should have checked with me first.”

For some blind people, this decision may have been necessary, or appreciated. Just as some people with disabilities may need or want to board first. But why not ask if that’s what we want, rather than just assume. Because of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

It happens all the time-
People who use wheelchairs are regularly discussed – in their presence – as if they were luggage.
People with disabilities travelling with family members or friends are often not talked to at all- even when the question is about them. “Can he walk down the plane aisle, or will he need the chair,” said to the friend of a man using a wheelchair.

My wife has been scolded on one flight for “allowing me” to use the “wrong” (business class) toilet.

People with disabilities are often made to wait for long periods of time. Periods of time which most customers would just not tolerate.

Why do these things happen? Because many people in the community, and thus the airline industry, have a negative or limiting view of the capability of people with disabilities. And the customer service training of airline staff – and many other service industries – on disability issues is just not adequate.

I’m very happy, at any time, for someone to offer me assistance. I’m not happy, at most times, to have the decision made for me. That’s the critical difference.

We’ll go this longer way because there’s a lift- you won’t be able to use stairs; Your dog won’t be able to go on the escalators;
Just wait here and we’ll get someone to push your wheelchair;
We want to give you special treatment, so we’re taking you onto the aircraft first, and leaving you to get off last.

When people just assume that women will interrupt their career to have children, or won’t be interested in a more senior role, women rightly get annoyed.
When people do not give job applicants with non-anglo names an interview, those applicants rightly get annoyed.
But when people assume that if you have a disability you won’t be able to do something, we’re just supposed to smile and say “thank you for patronising me.”

So, if I’m being Captain Grumpy, perhaps consider your assumptions, rather than my manners.

Graeme Innes is a disability advocate and cricket tragic, and does a fair imitation of an Alan Border media interview if negative assumptions are made about him as a result of his disability.