Saturday, August 22, 2015

Welcome Hands

When I am about to receive service from someone, as a person with a disability, for issues regarding my disability, I am filled with anxiety. I do not trust, and I don't think I'm alone in this, that the person, who will be randomly selected to serve me from the cadre of people on shift that day, will be:

1) happy in their job
2) free of prejudice against disabled people
3) free of bigotry against fat people
4) have a core value of kindness
5) able to understand my fear and how to handle it

Some of that list may surprise you. "What? Someone working with people with disabilities who is prejudiced against people with disabilities? How can that be?" I assure you it can be and I'll leave you to speculate how that comes to be as it's a question I wonder often, in my many capacities around the subject of disability.

The other day I received service from someone. I felt the anxiety. Didn't know how I'd be treated, didn't know if I'd be respected, didn't know if I'd come out the other end battered or bettered. But the service I got was simple, quietly reassuring, gentle and even a bit playful. No one thing was exceptional in and of itself, but the service was offered in a way which had me feeling relaxed only a few minutes in.

My brain said: I'm safe here.
My heart said: I'm safe here.
My body said: I'm safe here.

I left struggling to figure out exactly what "behaviours" were done. I couldn't really find any. I've received this service before, and will again, and there wasn't anything really unique this time.

Then I thought of the "attitude" with which I was served and then it was easier to figure out there was an attitude of:

1) welcome
2) competence
3) warmth
4) shared humanity
5) understanding of my sense of vulnerability

These attitudes shaded the work that was done. It filled the tone of voice, it put a cushion of careful gentleness between those fingers and my body, it communicated reassurance through demonstrated competency.

Two hands can touch, in the same way, doing the same thing, but the touch can be received in very different ways. Both hands doing the same job, but one pair of hands can leave me feeling supported, the other pair of hands can leave me feeling judged.

I was lucky.

I received wonderful support - from someone for whom welcome was an art.

7 comments:

CapriUni said...

Quote: What? Someone working with people with disabilities who is prejudiced against people with disabilities? How can that be?

Sadly, growing up with a disability all my life, I've found this to be all too common. Bullying is not exclusive to the confines of the playground or the corridors of high schools, and the attitudes and (maladaptive) coping skills of the bully don't magically melt away into nothingness when the bully reaches the legal age of adulthood.

Working in the Disabled Services sector has many aspects that are appealing to those with a bullying tendency. They know that the job title on their business card is enough to earn them adulation from their community. They get near global reinforcement that their view of the world is the one true view (and this is precisely what bullies have been trying to prove to the world since they uttered their first insult in preschool). And more important, it puts them in position of control over other people -- so they don't need to resort to punching or name calling in order to shame another human being.

That's why, like you, I am often on guard when I need help, and am grateful for true Human Grace of spirit, and that there are people who are drawn to service, because they believe serving others in ennobling rather than humilitating. Because it is.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

We don't pay support people enough.

And we don't screen support people enough for competence AND attitude.

As a society, we depend on caretakers, but don't value them, because 'anyone can do it.'

The best we can hope for is to convert the ones who are incompetent but can learn and wish to be better into more competent ones, and remove the egregiously bad ones, but it is a HUGE problem, because the people getting the services are often not in a position to demand what they need.

And it isn't going to get better if caregivers are treated like cogs.

It makes me sad that someone like you, with the ability to control as much of his life as you are, STILL has these fears.

Solutions? Well-supervised arrangements with a small group of consistent caregivers - if you can arrange it, need it, and can afford to pay for it.

But what about those who can't?

Colleen said...

Regarding support workers who are prejudiced against people with disabilities - I totally agree it happens. In fact, I think it happens more than we like to admit. I teach aspiring support workers. They come from a society steeped in prejudice. How can they not be prejudiced? The good ones accept that they carry prejudices and deal with it. Dave, someday I'd love to have a conversation with you about Suzy Sunshine - a monster full of prejudice.

clairesmum said...

Yes, playground bullies grow up and look like adults. Human services does attract/enable too many of these folks to continue their mean behavior and allows them power over others...so they can abuse the power to satisfy their own need to be in control and 'make things right' (in their own twisted view). More education sometimes changes the behavior, sometimes not.
I have an 'invisible' disability so I can 'hide' my vulnerability somewhat when I have to rely on others. But my ability to trust that anyone REALLY cares and is safe is still quite tentative.
So I have my own prejudice that comes out as a porcupine-like reaction when I feel a threat - even when there is none.
It's hard to slow down moments of interaction so that I can stay balanced enough to protect myself but not be taken over by my own prejudices.
I'm not devaluing my own or anyone else's experience, but trying to focus on the parts I can change.
I also try to speak up against misuses of power when I can, and leading by example.

Anonymous said...

Good and accepting attitudes IS an art. I wish people would look up "support" in the dictionary. It doesn't mean "doing me a begrudging favor". It really gets my goat when I've paid for a service. It shouldn't, but it does. I've been judged my whole life, and I should be paying to be so. You made some good points.

B. said...

As I have said here, I am so glad to know I'm not the only one out here experiencing that type of thing. Every so often I do come into contact with someone who I can reach but there are so many others... Thanks, Dave, and commenters for helping to put it out there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I needed to her this.