Pissing off the disabled … Here is how!

Photo is of Stella Young. She isn sitting in her wheelchair cupping her chin with her hand. She is looking upwards very cheekily.

One Christmas I invited the neighbours over. Dave and Elsie were in their seventies and I thought they would be good company for my Mum and Dad who were visiting. Dave was a good bloke and he often helped me out with little handyman things around the house. We were discussing my deafness, as you do. I was trying to point out that my life is not tragic, nor sad, that I am not inspiring and that going to work, paying for a house and bringing up children was just what humans do. “Im just living”, I said, “…nothing special.”

I was trying to explain that people with a disability actually find it really awkward when people hold them up on a pedestal for doing ordinary things. I told the story of my mate Rob who is a wheelchair user. One day we were in Alice Springs at one of their more classy hotels. My work colleagues were having dinner. Dinner was upstairs. To our horror, in 2003, there were no lifts. Rob, being a wheelchair user, was stuck. He couldn’t get up the stairs. Boy was he pissed off. Rob was going to do dinner with us all whether the hotel liked it or not.

We all said to Rob not to worry. We would find somewhere else to go. Bad luck for the hotel, they would miss out on a table of 20 and all the profits that went with it. Rob was having none of this. He called over the manager and he said – “I am booked in for dinner, and dinner I am having. Get your staff to get me up those stairs.” I looked over at Dave as I was telling this story, I thought he was going to cry.

So Rob insisted he was getting up the stairs come hell or high-water. The manager looked aghast but he could see that Rob was serious. So the manager called in a couple of burly porters and got them to carry Rob up the stairs. No easy feat given it was an electronic wheelchair. But they did indeed. They picked up the wheelchair, Rob and all, and carried Rob up the stairs.

I was chuckling as I recalled the story but Dave, his wife and my parents looked horrified. I said to them, ” It’s a happy story, Dave got what he wanted and probably because of the the Hotel will now start seriously thinking about putting in a lift.” But Dave, Elsie and my parents just looked at me remorsefully. You could just hear them thinking how tragic Rob’s life was. I tried to break their mood. I tried to point out that Rob was just asserting his rights like any person would.  In the end I gave up.. I could see that nothing I could say would change their perspective.

Stella Young explains it best ….

Meme shows a quote from Stella Young – We’ve been sold this lie that disability makes you exceptional and its honestly doesn’t …I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning.

In my clumsy way this is what I had been trying to point out to Dave, Elsie and my parents. That Rob wanting to have dinner with his mates was nothing exceptional. That he had to jump through hoops to do that was a pain in the arse but he was just doing what we would all do. I mean, if you went to a restaurant and you couldn’t open the door, you would bang on it and insist that some one open it. Thats all Rob did.

As I have become older I have become more cranky and less tolerant of Ablebods. I have got to a point where I sometimes want to scream at them. Just before I started writing this article I was at a caryard. A salesperson came up to me and started yabbering. I said to him that I was deaf and needed to lipread. Bless his cotton socks, he began to finger spell to me.

I said to him, ” Lucky I can finger spell otherwise I wouldn’t know what the fuck you were saying.” He kept finger spelling, slowly and painfully …… “I  H A V E. N O T. U S E D  I T  S I N C E. I  W A S. A T. H I G H. S C H O O L”   He was 60 if he was a day. This perspective of hearing people that if you are deaf therefore you must sign always befuddles me given that 98% or more of people with hearing loss cant sign at all. After 47 years I am getting less able to smile at them with gratitude and say thank you for trying. Even though I am well aware that they mean well.

It’s been a week for this sort of shit. Yesterday I was at a restaurant. I was with a deaf mate and I was signing to him. He cant sign very well but I am trying to help him get better. Anyway, the waitress came over to help us. She was lovely and said she could finger spell. I really wasn’t in the mood to watch her as I wanted to chat with my mate. Politely I told her I thought that was great. I told her she was welcome to come back later and try her finger spelling on us. Bless her cotton socks, she looked so excited.

So we had a lovely dinner overlooking Moanna Beach. We were just about ready to go and the lovely waiter comes back and finger spells, “.. H O W. W A S. Y O U R. D I N N E R.”  The Vino had mellowed me a little bit. I told her she was pretty good. I taught her how to sign it rather than spell it out. She said she would remember. We had a chat and she told us she was from Queensland and hoped we would come back so that she could practice some more. I mean she was just lovely, but when you must deal with this almost everyday you sometimes can be forgiven for not wanting to be someones inspiration and feel good story for the day.

And just the day before that it happened again. This time I was on the phone to the bank using the dreaded National Relay Service. I was trying to get the bank to email me rather than call me. The person at the other end was all confused. He didn’t know what to do and had to go and consult his manager. All I wanted was an email, but this is the life I lead. The guy comes back and asks this ….

“….Gary you have a partner, is she deaf as well? as we could speak to her and she could relay to you , sorry i mean sign language? “

Again that perspective that all us deafies sign … I was very patient .. Pointed out that my wife was indeed deaf … That I would prefer to deal with these things without having to have messages relayed and would like someone to email me … To their credit the bank did exactly this. Even though I got my way, the fact that I had to jump through hoops for this simple request made me want to throttle some one. But no, I smiled and was as nice as can be. As nice as a buzzy bee.

But spare a thought for my friend who had to deal with the below …..

” …My LAC suggested that while I’m waiting for approval for a visual fire alarm, I could ask my neighbour to keep an ear out (and give them a copy of my house keys) to let me know the fire alarm is going off in the middle of the night while I’m sleeping. Or my 8 week old baby (at the time) could cry and I could be woken up through the baby alarm. Lovely!”

I’ll just leave that right there. Imagine if you needed waking with a flashing light cos there is a fire and being told not to worry, your baby will cry if there is a fire, your baby cry alarm will go off and save you all.  Imagine that … Well, buzzy bee gets just a little less happy.

I tell the above stories because more than once this week when I recounted the stories I was told not to be an arsehole. It is true that I was sarcastic and that I was cynical, but I was also frustrated. I even got told off for being condescending in using the term “Bless your cotton socks”  I love the person that told me off  for this dearly. All I can say is that when you have a week of being patronised, talked down to and being the centre of everyones feel good story your patience wears a little thin.

I am always polite and friendly to all those people that try! ( God that sounds so condescending.) But fuck me, spend a day in my shoes, in the the shoes of the deaf or the shoes of any disabled person and you will understand why sometimes we just want to fade into the wood work.

Ill leave you with the words of the late and great Stella Young.

” ..From time to time, people pat me on the head. It happens on public transport, in the supermarket, in bars. It’s a common enough occurrence that it very rarely takes me completely by surprise.”

Yup, fuck yes – Every person that knows a little bit of sign and assumes the I won’t mind as they painfully show me what they can do, thats my equivalent of a pat on the head. As Stella said,  It doesn’t surprise us – but very often it pisses us off ..!!

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