I thought she said, "Odious Pee."
I really did.
So I said back, "Pardon me?"
It was during an appointment with a specialist that my doctor wanted me to see. I'm always wary of meeting new doctors because, well, they're doctors. This one was so young - you know you are getting really old when specialists look like they are still wearing a training bra. She came out and called me in, introduced herself and then sat down to ask a whack of questions. I whipped through the answers - letting her into my medical history. Surprising her with having parents still living, surpising her even more with quick, brief, accurate answers to her questions. Then she mentioned the 'odious pee'. I knew I was mishearing her so I asked her what she had said. She looked concerned as this was the first question in at least 50 where I had faltered.
"Odious Pee," she repeated.
"I'm not sure what that is or what you are saying," I said again.
"You know the Ontario Disability Support Programme," she said and I then recognized that she was saying initials.
"I don't get the ODSP," I said.
She looked suprised and said, "What do you do for money?"
"I work," I said.
"Really?" she said, shocked.
"Really," I said angry.
"What do you do?"
"Huh," she said when I described my work.
We continued with questions, I was burning inside. I know that poverty and unemployment define the lives of so many with disabilities. I know that equity is a long way off. I know that many people struggle to have their abilities acknowledge with pay and respect. I know that. But part of the reason there is rampant unemployement is the mamoth failure of imagination of so many people. They can't 'imagine' a person in a wheelchair at work. They can't imagine a person in a wheelchair making a contribution. It's that intellectual blindness that is so frigging upsetting. The automatic assumption that someone with a disability is unemployable.
A few minutes later she put her pen down. Looked away from the computer for a second and said, "I've offended you haven't I?"
"Yes," I said simply.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed," she said.
"No," I said, "you shouldn't have."
"I apologize," she said.
"The only apology worth anything is change," I said.
"I'll remember this," she said.
We went on.
She turned out to be very good at her job. She knew what she was talking about and gave me five bits of advice about preventative healthcare for someone with diabetes that I didn't know. She was entirely respectful in her work with me and she trusted me to know what I needed and to be able to make mature decisions about things. Overall I was impressed. And, I thought she really did get that her assumption, her stereotypeing, was inappropriate and wrong.
That morning, before going to the doctors, I'd been in a meeting with 'The Team' at Vita. We have a representative from the Rights Group on the team and he's a very cool guy with an intellectual disability. Several weeks before he had popped into my office and we chatted a bit. I asked him how he got to the office, did he walk? did he take transit?
"No," he said, "I drove."
I admit it. That option hadn't popped into mind. I didn't see him as a 'driver' and I didn't see that he'd be behind a wheel. A mammoth failure of imagination.
They're hard to avoid doing to others.
And wrong when done to you.
I hereby publically apologize to him.
But the only apology worth anything is change ... so I'm going to try.