Monday, 14 March 2016

The Invisibility of Disability

Have you ever noticed when you are out shopping with your loved one who has a disability that retail or hospitality staff will ask YOU what THEY want?

Miss Chloe has always watched them to see whether I am going to speak for her AND if I do...she has ALWAYS contradicted me!! I spent a few years feeling guilty that I was 'wasting people's precious time' waiting for Chloe to get the words out. I also felt it was my job to not have them feel 'uncomfortable or embarrassed'  because they didn't understand her the first, second and sometimes third time.

I am so grateful for her tenacity because she taught it SHE WAS WORTH IT!

I was unconsciously telling her that strangers were worth more then her when I spoke for her or tired to hurry her up. It is a long time since she taught me this and every retail or hospitality person EVENTUALLY gets what she is saying and today, I see THAT as customer service. They are learning a great lesson in respect and patience as well.

So next time you speak for your child KNOW you are telling them you don't think they are capable.

I watch Chloe sometimes and it never ceases to amaze me when she is shopping or trying to buy something from a food court, how many times staff see straight through her! She is a polite person and will just keep standing there...waiting, waiting, waiting until eventually a customer will say; "I think you are next".

It is very sad that she (and others with a disability) are invisible to most of society where transactions take place. There seems to be this concept that they wouldn't know, so we will just wait for the carer/person with them to come and tell us what they want.

Chloe was asked to leave a bookshop once because the owner ASSUMED she was under 12 (she was 17). When asked why he didn't just ask how old she was, he looked at me with this look of shock...I really don't think he thought she could talk, so he didn't bother finding out.

We were at a market once in Melbourne and Chloe was buying a t-shirt. She was holding the t-shirt and was in front of me. I was talking to a friend and the stall holder leaned over Chloe and tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I needed anything.

Rather annoyed, I pretended I didn't know Chloe, pointed to her and her t-shirt and suggested it looked like SHE is the next customer!

I spend a lot of time pretending I don't know her and suggest SHE is the customer, so maybe they should ask her...

Another issue we have is the height of the benches in the food courts. They are so high, that even when the service person eventually sees Chloe, they can't understand her because there is so much glass between her and them on the other side. I also found this an issue when I had my stroke and was in a wheelchair.

Perhaps Customer Service staff need to be trained to never assume and maybe some clever inventor will create a disability-friendly way of making the retail and eating out experience more enjoyable for those who are not the generic size, shape or look!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Let the Mountain come to you

Recently I was involved in a Regional Toastmasters competition where the standard of speeches was exceptionally high. However, there was one speech that really resonated with me and my life.

The speaker was speaking about mountain climbing and how he kept looking up to see how far he had to go or looking down to see how far up he was. He had a very experienced guide with him but there came a point where he was exhausted and KNEW he couldn't make it all the way to the top. The guide came over to him and quietly said;

"Just worry about your next step and when you have done that one, focus on the one after that. Before you know it, the mountain would have come to you."

WOW...what amazingly wise words. How many times in our lives do we look so far ahead, not noticing there are many steps to be taken before we reach there. Once we set our goal (whatever the goal may be), we need to come back to the now and just deal with the very next step. Every time I do this, I am amazed how easy the complete task has been when it is finished, one step at a time...

With Miss Chloe, I was so overwhelmed when she was born, worrying about what her life would be like when I was gone - I just wanted to hide. This has turned out to be a complete waste of time and energy. I have lost quite a few precious peaceful days worrying. The strange thing is, as every day passed and my little girl developed from a baby, into a girl and into a woman, I have realised that my mindset is nowhere near the place it was when she was born. And her life is wonderful and complete and she will manage exactly as she is supposed to!

Chloe loves her life and feels complete (yes, eventhough she has down syndrome - she doesn't see this as a big deal). She achieves many things that are just out of her capabilities AND she just focuses on the next step. She has had many mountains to overcome in her lifetime and I am sure there will be many more to come.

So, the next time you get an attack of the 'CAN'T or QUIT' just remember - the only thing you need to worry about is the next step, AND before you know it, your mountain would have come to you!