Saturday, May 18, 2013

the new normal: adapting to less

I was in a local shop. It's small. It has the feel of a local village shoppe even though it's dead centre in the middle of a large city. Even though it's small the aisles are such that I can get to almost every point in the store. Sometimes I need to take a circuitous route, but devil be damned, that's fine with me. I CAN get in the store because they've taken a piece of metal and tacked it over the small lip that separates the entrance from the pavement in front. They replace this regularly as it wears out.

A friend was with me and we were chatting as I lead them over to the tea section of the shop. There is one brand of green tea that I think is better than all others. It's hard to find. This shop sometimes carries it and every time we go in I look to see if they have some in stock. If they do I buy three or four boxes. There's only 20 bags per box so that's not as much as it might sound.

The tea wasn't in stock but one of the clerks there, who I see regularly, said hello as he was passing the two of us. I stopped him and asked about ordering a few boxes of the tea. I'm right out of it and am desperate to get ahold of some more. He chatted with the two of us, agreed to order some for me and then he went about his business. At the counter the woman was quite affable as I placed my items on the counter and paid for them.

When we left I remarked to my friend about how exceptional the service was in the store. She stopped in her tracks and said, "Did you really find that exceptional?" I said that I did. I didn't feel even slightly 'in the way' in the store as I often do in the much larger chain grocery stores, I didn't feel spoken down to or patronised in any way. I felt that I was treated just like any other customer.

She said, "It's sad that for you, what I expect as the norm, you experience as exceptional."

Could this be true?

Six years in to the disability experience and I am so used to getting less that the 'new norm' is satisfaction as long as 'less' isn't accompanied by overt acts of discrimination. Covert? OK, that's fine.

I know that it's important when working with people that you set expectations high enough to encourage growth - to encourage striving for better - to demonstrate faith in potential.

I wonder if now I've set the bar so low because I have no faith in the potential of society to strive to become more - pick a word: welcoming, tolerant, inclusive - and I have absolutely zero belief that it has any desire to reach those goals.

Or I wonder if I've set the bar low just so I don't have to always be doing something, reacting to something, speaking to someone, writing to someone.

I don't know.

In fact I'm still so flustered by what my friend said that I'm working though it ... so, what do you think ... do you think that over time those of us in the disability community think that everything is fine just if it isn't horrible? I'm curious if anyone else has lowered the bar too.


Unknown said...

I'm a parent of a child with a disability and I am still at the stage where I write letters, which is why I over react when I get decent service without having to ask for it! Seems yours is a normal response. :-)

Rachel in Idaho said...

I think I see your point - it's like if somebody is hitting you, and they stop, even if the are still being an asshole to you it's a definite improvement. And if nobody seems to stop them being an asshole to you, but only cares if they actually hit you, then after a while it becomes normal and expected for you.

At least that's my guess, having been through the depths of hell that was late elementary and all of middle school, it's all been up from there. (Though I was never physically bullied, psychologically, hell yes.) And yes, I am referring to when I was a kid, and I am 37. That's how bad it was! At least now if somebody treated me as badly as some classmates did I'd have grounds to have them arrested!

n. said...

I get pretty excited when ppl don't mind my brain, don't try to make me act like I have a different one, and tell me stuff straight out so I don't have to guess. if that person's my supervisor at work, I consider that an exceptional one because I've known lots that I didn't know how to communicate at all w them and had lots of confusion because of it.

Anonymous said...

In a way I get her comment, but there is another way to look at it. Maybe you are just more tuned in - she might let a little thing here or there go. Maybe her attention is elsewhere. But you are paying attention so you are more attuned and quicker about reading people

I know sometimes things happen to my friends without disabilities that would offend me. But they don't care because it's not such big deal to them if someone is patronizing etc. They might not like it, but it has less meaning than it would to me.

Anonymous said...

I know I’ve lowered the bar with regard to how services support the people with learning disabilities that I work with. As a support worker, if there’s a visitor from services who is pleasant, respectful and communicates appropriately with the guys we support, then that’s a good day.
It’s not a lot to ask. But it is a lot when it happens because it usually doesn’t. :-(

CapriUni said...

I agree with Anon. @13:47; your friend might not have noticed any special care or attention given by the store and its staff... But she might not have noticed the metal strip they've put over the threshold, or the care with which the store's aisles had been arranged -- because she's never had a need to notice such things. So what she notices, and values as important are the explicit interactions -- when the staff spoke to you.

But you do notice those things, and you also know, by experience, that such things don't "just happen" -- they require effort and thought... and consideration.

So I don't think your bar is set too low -- it's just calibrated to a different scale than someone who has the privilege of taking access for granted.

Andrea S. said...

I think CapriUni makes an excellent point.

Rachel in Idaho does also.

Mary said...

I find that I simply can't keep the bar that high all the time.

Example: A couple of days ago I was in town. I'd been looking for a birthday present for a friend and having finally found something I decided that a cup of tea and a bit of cake was needed, and since a new shop/cafe was just in front of me...

We went in and were told that to get a wheelchair to the main cafe we needed to go round to the other entrance. There were outside tables, potted plants and fabric barriers making the route just a few inches too narrow for a wheelchair. The staff, to be fair, eagerly rushed forwards to move things out of the way, with much noise and kerfuffle and clanging of cutlery landing on the paving stones... then trying to get in the "wheelchair entrance" that only just accommodated my standard-size chair, there was a non-fixed doormat that caught in my front wheels and oh, goodness me.

I wanted to relax with a cup of tea after an afternoon's shopping, and the fuss and parade of trying to get me in (and you know how when you want to say "screw it. This place is not accessible to me" but because the frontline shop-floor staff, low-paid people who aren't responsible for the building design, are already going to so much trouble...) had used up my last reserves.

I wasn't able to do an Access Crusade, I simply didn't have it in me. But I know that next time I go to a cafe that is accessible, even if it isn't perfect, it's going to be a big relief that obtaining a cup of tea doesn't have to be such a performance.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with CapriUni

Anonymous said...

The bar is exactly as high as I can afford - with my extremely limited energy. No more.

The energy calculus is going on in my head every minute: do I have the energy to walk over to where they put the switch to get the accessible door to open, or should I just shove it.

Do I just leave? Or curl up here and wait? Or do I try to make them do their job?

The problem is that each imperfect solution has a COST - to ME.

I can only find the solution that will work for me at that particular time. No wonder I don't go out much!

Some days, if I plan carefully, and consider all the little steps, I can participate in 'normal' events with 'well' people. Other days I turn around, leave the store that is causing grief, and get home - or to a place I can rest - as soon as possible.

Lately, I've just been telling people what accommodations I need with a quick explanation of why - and it's been working well, but I've only tried it in situations I expect people will understand. The clueless I leave clueless most of the time - I don't have the energy to educate the world.

I wish I could be more proactive - and I'm incredibly grateful for the people who can be.

But I feel I'm getting more and more selfish every day - without becoming a problem for other people, if possible.

When I have something particular to say - and can manage the energy - I blog about it.

Anonymous said...

I think I am "guilty" of setting my bar lower. I feel I am unable to contribute as much so I don't expect as much. It may not be "right" but it saves an ocean full of hurt an disappointment. That being said - service in almost all areas is so poor that assistance from anyone is so appreciated - abled or not. A thankful heart is a better way to go.

Princeton Posse said...

It's like the old saying, "Better an pessimist and be surprised or an optimist and be disappointed".

Unknown said...

My bar for the rest of the world is set so low you couldn't limbo under it.

FYI - "Tolerance" is a word that only means to put up with something or someone you disagree with. It has nothing to do with inclusion.

Have a great day!