Monday, July 02, 2007


Rah! Finally.

The grocery store we shop at is part of a chain of stores that have locations all through the eastern provinces and a few scattered stores out west. We like the store and we like the fact that in most stores we shop in while we travel, we see employees with intellectual disabilities working at bagging groceries or dealing with errant carts in the parking lot. Though I've never checked, I just guessed that the store had a policy of some kind to hire people with disabilities. I like seeing corporate responsibility and a true understanding of diversity.

But in my local store, up until now, I've never seen anyone with a disability working there. Hell, I'm the only one with a disability that I've ever seen in the store. Even though I know that there are tons of people with invisible disabilities, there must be the disabled parking bays are always full, in the store. It's nice sometimes just to 'see' difference. Anyways, there she was, big as real life, filling plastic bags with groceries.

She wore the store tee shirt marking her as an employee and she was competently placing groceries into the plastic bag. I looked at her waiting to be inspired. I am a person who is easily moved. I can feel tears brim when I see someone with an intellectual disability standing at a bus stop waiting for a ride. I think it's because of two reasons. One, I'm an emotional kind of guy. Two, I worked at the dawn of time in the institutions. I can overlay a picture of a guy standing lost and alone in an institution hallway over the image of the guy at the bus stop ... I can actually see the progress made - and it thrills me.

So, I waited to be inspired. And she should have done the job. I get all sorts of inspirational emails with stories of people, like her, with Down Syndrome working as bagboys and who create whole new worlds around them. They inspire truckers to leave money for a heart operation, they inspire shoppers to rethink their lives, they do their job - and more - they make a heartless world whole. These are busy, busy, busy people with a big job to do.

I waited. For inspiration to come. But it didn't. She did her job, true. That should have been enough. So many people write of those with intellectual disabilities as unemployable drains on society. But she had a job. Putting bread into a bag. She had proved them wrong. And wrong is the word. There was something wrong with the picture.

"You're staring," Joe whispered.

I quickly looked away and we headed to the car. I thought of her on and off, felt deep inside for something. Anything. But I felt nothing. Not a single spark of inspiration. Drat. What's up with that.

Yesterday we needed to stop by a grocery store to pick up some things we needed for the BBQ that day. As it was after a movie we stopped at a different store from a different chain. I looked purposely at their bag personnel and noticed none who had an obvious disability. But, I noticed something. They all looked bored. Completely bored. When one of them glanced at their watch, like she had done several times, I understood something.

She was bored stiff. She felt about her job like they did about theirs. That it was beneath her talents. That it was something to do to fill the day and make some money but that it wasn't the diamond in the sky - the pinnacle of her ambitions - the opportunities to change some minds and warm some hearts. It was just bagging groceries. Just because she had a disability didn't mean that she had to act ally grateful and look moonstruck at a block of cheese that she was sticking into a bag.

It's a boring tedious job.

And she'd rather be reading, or watching television, or gabbing on the phone - just like everyone else.

So no inpirational story will ever be made out of the woman with Down Syndrome bagging groceries at my local grocery store. She's not going to end up travelling through the internet as an example to all of us normates about the true value of being human. She won't be a literary equivelent to Tiny Tim. She'll just be a bored bag clerk, doing what's got to be done.

And, I guess, ironically that's kind of inspiration enough.


Eric said...

Thanks for that Dave. Yes, the right to be bored and uninspired in our work and our lives in general is somehow oddly what we are striving for. On the other hand, while we have seen such great progress, sometimes our expectations are still too low - and folks with intellectual disabilities get stuck into some of the most boring jobs imaginable. Those jobs are a great starting point, but not necessarily a career for everyone.

Imperfect Christian said...

Once again, beautifully worded. Sometimes I get irritated that people expect MORE out of my kids than to just be kids. Yeah, they have an extra chromosome and they may or may not do something marvelous with their lives...which is no different than my son who has just as many chromsomes as I do.

BTW, I'm sure you've touched on this before, but do you feel having a NOTICEABLE disability is a positive or a negative in your life?

Anonymous said...

Of course I can't speak for Dave, and I know your question wasn't targeted at me -- but as someone who has BOTH a "noticeable" disability. I'm Deaf enough that I'm sure I couldn't "fake" being hearing if I tried so I count that as my "noticeable" disability, and I also have attention deficit disorder which is not so noticeable for most people.

I'm not sure I'd say that blanket labels like "positive" or "negative" really apply to either case. A "noticeable" disability does SIMPLIFY certain decisions, such as when or whether to disclose. If you know that people will catch on eventually anyway it takes some of the stress off you. You aren't really taking as much risk to disclose that you're Deaf (or whatever) and need certain accommodations. And it can even be a certain advantage to disclose in that situation -- in terms of getting accommodations for one thing, and in terms of simply taking control of when and how much the other person understands of your disability. (Though the precise timing of that disclosure can still matter in job hunting. I continue to struggle with the question of whether to disclose before I show up for a job interview--which runs the risk that the other person might suddenly "lose" all your contact information, even though the ADA says they aren't supposed to discriminate. Or do I only disclose at the interview, which at least gets me to the interview but means I may have to get by on lipreading instead of with an interpreter? Assuming they would necessarily have followed the law in trying to get an interpreter in the first place? Plus other disadvantages, including the fact that some people hold this idea that people with disabilities ought to "warn" them. I don't agree that we hold them any sort of obligation in that direction UNLESS it's to ask for accommodations, but people who hold that attitude might still be put off by what THEY define as "late" disclosure.)

Whereas with something less noticable, and I think more poorly understood or accepted like attention deficit disorder, there is a wider range of options on when, or even whether, to disclose at all. And the risks and benefits of disclosure at different times and contexts with different people can be more complicated to analyze.

This is not to say that one is necessarily more positive or negative than the other (ie, a "noticeable" vs a "non-noticeable" disability). It's simply DIFFERENT.


Jeff said...

Loved this post, I am so glad I found your blog.

I often wonder why we are still so far behind in creating meaningful employment for individuals with disabilites.

A gallop poll last year showed that 87% of the American public would prefer to do business with companies that employ people with disabilities.

Studies show individuals with disabilities are loyal to thier jobs and their companies and rarley call in sick.

My experience unfortunatley tells me that where we need to make the most drastic changes to improve employment opportunites are with the people who work in Vocational Rehabilitation on the state and federal level and also the folks in the not for profit's that do placement and training.

Just my thoughts....


Anonymous said...

It inspired me...and please don't take my strong opinions on this as an attack...I truly admire someone who can write in very positive uplifting way about disability...and you have a really good perspective based on the work you do and have done...

It's always important to reinforce that there is so much more that we have in common with the able than the ways we differ.

Disability as inspiration can be a trap for the person with a disability because then "angelic" or saintly behavior becomes an expectation of the able "watching"

People with disabilites are human, and some days, don't live up to their potential, let alone some potenital imposed by the able...

We have tough days.

That's the toughest argument to make.

Many able who haven't lived around people with disabilities are fond of either the "disability is a result of sin," or the idea that we are "special" or "angels" or something...

Neither, please. We're people...

Thanks for this blog. I've linked to it as a good counterbalace to my "mostly grumpy most of the time" approach.