We were in line up to purchase a few items. As Joe and I were chatting, I didn't notice the clerk in any real way. I heard her voice as she and the woman in front of us were talking and laughing about something. When it was our turn, Joe emptied our bag onto the counter and I moved round to be out of the way of those wanting to get by. It was then that I noticed that she had a disability. One arm was quite a bit shorter than the other and the hand on that arm was unusually shaped. I noted it without thinking much about it at all. Disability, difference, big deal.
The clerk was expert at using just one hand. She'd clearly had lots of practise and did everything with ease. Then something slipped out of the hand she was using and she caught it with the other hand. She looked up at Joe a bit of fear in her eyes, and apologised. Joe just shrugged his shoulders and told her it was no problem. The woman behind us, noticed, I think for the first time - the arm and hand that were different. She then quietly pulled away and went to another teller. I noticed. Joe noticed. The clerk noticed.
I saw Joe lean forward and whisper something to her, she laughed.
I asked him later what he'd said, "I said, 'Screw her! And her little dog too!!'"
The woman who walked away. I wonder if she thinks about what she did. I wonder if she thinks of it as any form of prejudice or bigotry. I'm guessing not. I think that people with disabilities are still far away from having legitimate minority status. Far away from having words like 'ableism' or 'disphobia' understood as terms denoting our experience of prejudice. People don't have to challenge their behaviour because the, as of yet, have no name for it. Racism and sexism and homophobia exists to describe but also to challenge. People can stop and ask ... Am I that?
The woman who was clerking, had she been taught or told or made as a condition of employment to use only the one hand. The other was perfectly functional, we'd seen that. Why was there fear in her eyes.
I think I know, what do you think?
One of the stores where we shop has a clerk with one arm that is completely non-functional. He does a great job. It's never made a difference and I've never seen anyone pay attention. And that's the way it should be.
Tell her to look for the ruby slippers after the house falls down on the crabby customer.
A reaction to something different suddenly noticed is inevitable.
Our BEHAVIOR after we notice is under our control.
And if we think about it at other times (such as now, when you point these things out), our surprised reaction can also be minimized in the future.
It is all part of growing up.
I know the fear in her eyes. I know how it is to be judged and even judge yourself because of your "differnce". I did work twice as hard in my job, because I always thought that I had to "make up" for my disability.
It nearly brought me to the rim of madness. I had burn out. My boss always seemed to be not satisfied enough with my work and he exuded this feeling through everything he sad or did.
I had this fear in my eyes for a long time. Even half a year after I stopped working at that place!
I think that you are right - we don't have the words for this right now. I find that people readily recognize racism but not prejudice against people with disabilities. If that woman had walked away from the clerk because of her race - everyone would have immediately recognized her as racist and most people would have been appalled. But because her prejudice is against a woman with a disability, no one bats an eyelash - except you and Joe. We have such a long way to go!
I love Joe's comment. I hope it made the clerk smile.
PS and you know what - so what if she had dropped something - not like that never happens! for heaven's sake when do we get over this???
Far away from minority status, indeed! I was just having a conversation with another mother of a child with a cognitive disability about this very thing. We were speaking of the fight to have our kids included in the classroom and the subtle (and overt) prejudice from other parents towards our kids.
Both of us are old enough to remember practiced racism, so when we teach about the era just prior to the civil rights movement, we can "see" how that behavior seemed acceptable/normal (even though we're not quite THAT old.;) Our kids, however, are aptly appalled and cannot fathom a world in which everybody didn't stand up and cry, "FOUL!"
We are hopeful that one day, they will be teaching their children about how those with disabilities are treated and excluded and our grandchildren will be appalled and unable to fathom a world in which we don't all work together side by side.
No, I don't understand the fear. I understand being treated like I'm stupid, second class, delicate, etc. I especially understand humour to survive well like Joe's quick response.
I am sorry - all I keep thinking is ...seriously a customer moved to a different checkout line because of a difference in someone's Hand?!? Are you kidding me?? That just horrifies me that people can act so inconceivably ridiculous, stupid... I would just never have considered someone would have such an issue!! But certainly that is just cruel. I love Joe's comment to the clerk, though.
I am more frightened though about your question as to whether this clerk was told not to use one of her hands as a condition of employment... I hope and pray that is not the world in which we live today...
A dear woman I had the priviledge to support many years ago had some pretty serious psychiatric challenges. She was kind and bright and caring and a hard worker and someone who in just a few decades had gone through more than fifty people should have to in a lifetime-- She had been subjected to so much hurt & sometimes her thoughs would run quickly and on bad days her conversation would be jumbled or sound to others to be paranoid as she'd work through the thoughts in her mind. ...Do you know what she was taught by so-called professionals?! Not to talk... She was taught to give answers that were one or two words So That Others Could Not Tell Her "Distorted" Thinking! She was probably about sixty before she started to share again her feelings and thoughts and all that additional beauty that was in her heart. I truly hope this clerk was not told she couldn't use her hand & if she was I hope and pray that changes for her today...
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