"Hey, how are you doing?"
A perfectly normal conversation, between friendly strangers, on a perfectly normal day. The only thing that is exceptional at all is that the fellow asking has an intellectual disability and the fellow responding has a physical disability. He works in a store that I frequent on a semi-regular basis and a couple of times I have asked him to help me out with reaching something. He's one of the few staff in the store who helps willingly so if I need help I typically go to him first. So we've become friendly strangers. We have a nodding acquaintance and, if I haven't been in for awhile, when he sees me we have a brief conversation.
The other day Joe and I stopped on a patio for a bevvy. Joe had a tall frosty beer and I had a cuppa tea. We sat under the shade of an umbrella and chatted. I didn't notice that my helpful store guy was there on the patio until he called to us, he knows Joe as well, to say hello. He got up and came over with his girlfriend to introduce us. He was clearly proud of her and completely smitten with her. She was a little bolder than him and she struck up an easy conversation, showing us her ring and talking about their plans to marry. Another perfectly normal conversation.
They returned to their table with our congratulations ringing in their ears. His smile was as broad as it could have been. He'd mentioned that not everyone had congratulated them, so he'd seemed thrilled with ours. They went about their meal, we continued to chat over our drinks. It was a nice afternoon.
We said our goodbyes to them, wished them luck on their wedding and future life together as a couple, and made our way back into the restaurant to pay for our drinks. Just inside the door were two women, my age, had chosen the cool of an air conditioned interior. They were staring out the window at the young couple.
"It's just so sad," one said to another, both nodding at the sentiment.
I was chilled by the statement. Chilled. It seems that maybe we've come to the point where the myths about disability and about living with a disability, particularly intellectual disability, are so strong that people can't see what's there without layering preconception and prejudice over what they see. OK, there are things that they couldn't see. They couldn't see that he has a job and maybe they couldn't see her engagement ring but it was what they didn't see that astonished and concerned me.
They didn't see two people with an intellectual disability out on a date on a sunny patio having dinner together.
They didn't see two people in love.
They didn't see two people living completely independently.
They didn't see two people enjoying a beer and wine with their meal.
They didn't see two adults, together, doing adult things, in an adult way.
I'm not sure what they saw, the pity crayon, when used to colour perceptions obscures most everything doesn't it?
If people can't see quality of life then they can't see equality of experience. "It's just so sad," they'd said because when they looked out the window they saw something that wasn't there. I agree with one thing, it was sad, sad that they couldn't see what it looks like when a young couple is simply in love.