Last night I was out for dinner with my Mom. It was a small space, and it took some time getting a table, so we chatted for a while waiting, and then came in and sat down. It was at this point that something unexpected happened. The young waitress came out with only one menu, hands it to my Mom, and asks if she’ll be ordering for me. There was a split second of stunned silence while my Mom and I processed what just happened before I could say “Excuse me?!”.
The young waitress quickly apologized, and handed me a menu. Later after we ordered our meals, my Mom called the waitress over, and asked her to apologize to her daughter. As inherited as this trait might be, it’s still embarrassing for me when my Mom calls someone out on my behalf, though perhaps not nearly as embarrassing as it was for the waitress.
She did apologize, and explained that she hadn’t interacted with disabled people before. I felt a little empathy towards her at this point, perhaps because I too have been on the receiving end of a Mom Rant, and left her with some disability pointers that I hope she’ll remember. Someone else will be getting an email with the Accessible Customer Service Standard.
If this seems at all shocking for 2016, know that it will likely continue into 2017 as well. Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities #IDPD. Disabled people across the world have been bringing attention to issues like this all day, and for decades. I’m protected with a certain amount of privilege that keeps situations like this away from me most of the time, but many people are not.
Fellow blogger Dave Hingsburger recently posted about a disabled man who was finally given agency and the power to make a major decision about his own life at the age of sixty. This is a must read, beautiful post, bring tissue.
As a disabled person, sometimes it seems like this loss of agency is something we have to live with, but it’s not. Loss of agency has much more to do with the system we live in then it does with us as disabled people. I think this is particularly important when we talk about employment, which happens to be part of the theme for this year’s #IDPD.
Let’s face facts, employers would still prefer to hire an able-bodied, neuro-normative person most of the time, especially when that potential employee is white. These are hard times to find jobs for many people, but white, educated, non-disabled people seem a little more entitled to those jobs, and we need to start talking about that with them.
Like this waitress, when you’re just doing your job, sometimes it’s hard to see the people who’ve become invisible in the process. Not unlike the indigenous peoples in Canada whose rights and traditions suddenly become invisible so our Prime Minister can approve a pipeline, create some temporary work for other people, and leave progressing our economy and environment to somebody else.
The bottom line: if we don’t talk about our agency and our rights, and making those things visible, they will be lost to someone else who is louder and more visible then we are.
So please speak out when you can, if not for you, then do it for the many of us who are still not in the conversation today. Start with writing to your MP. Talk about accessibility, talk about a Canadians with Disabilities Act, talk about pipelines. It’s time the conversation shifted.