Wednesday, May 14, 2008


It was pandamonium. Way too many people. Way too small a place. Way too many rules for where to stand. The cafeteria was full of confusion. In a wheelchair I'm not tall enough to scope the situation out and decide appropriate action. All Ican see is people swirling in front of me asking, "Is this where I go for the soup and sandwich?" "Is this where I go for the grill?" "Is this where I line up for the drinks?" Finally I see the line for the grill, just off the line for the salads, and head there.

I order a veggie burger, give my name for pick up, and then proceed along to pay. Our line is moving swifty, much more quckly than the other pay line on the other side. "Next!" a voicebox that must have been shaped at birth like a megaphone alternately shoves the last person away and pulls in the next calls out ahead of me. "Talk to me, I'm blind, what are you having?" it's an order, not a request, it's a statement of fact, not a plea for pity. This woman could teach drill sargents how to keep order.

Everyone quickly describes that they are having. Salad and fruit is weighed on the scale beside, keys are punched on the till, total is announced. "How you paying me? What size is the bill?" then cards are swiped or change is given. "NEXT!" At one point the customer didn't leave quickly and the woman slowly gathered up her stuff and didn't answer, "Is there someone in front of me, tell me your order," the next person quickly stepped into place and gave her order.

Her incredible efficiency was amazing. No dilly dally, no 'oh me oh my I'm so disabled be patient with me' - it was all straighforward effiency. I can picture her children standing at attention for inspection in the morning. When I was NEXT, I got up to the till and started to give my order. She could tell I was sitting not standing so she lowered her eyes to be about where she figured I was and continued to give instruction and take information. My money was swapped for change, I said "thanks" and moved on.

I've always heard about the need to adapt workplaces for people with disabilties. This may be the first time when a person with a disability was able to adapt a workforce. Where someone simply stated clearly what need to be done to get the job accomplished. And people did it. She had authority, dignity. She stated she was blind, not for pity, but to keep it clear that the interaction needed to be verbal. She whipped people through the line up faster than the sighted woman on the other side.

I wonder if she gets a kick out of that. But maybe she doesn't have time to notice.

"Next! Talk to me!"


Kei said...

I love it!!!
What a great way to start my day by reading this~ thanks Dave!

Liz Miller said...

That is completely and totally brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Great to hear this story -- though as a deaf person, I would be nervous because my lipreading skills, although fairly decent, are far from perfect: if I had been there, I might not have understood her request right away. Also, I can think of people I know who don't speak very clearly who normally gesture or write things down as their primary mode of communication with non-signing hearing people. Wonder how she would deal with that.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't a hearing and sighted person help the Deaf person tell her what their order was? - I love the notion that if we all worked together we would make it work!

Thanks for this delightful story Dave

Anonymous said...

Colleen: True. But it would have to be handled with sensitivity (i.e., the person helping would need to ensure the deaf person understands WHY help is being offered). Deaf people already have the repeated experience of other people jumping in to take over our interactions with hearing waiters without checking for permission or giving us room to claim ownership of the interaction or find our own solutions first.

With me, for example, I would not want a hearing person to just take over--I would want them to simply alert me that the woman is blind and needs me to tell them the order verbally. Then I would give the order verbally myself, because I do have the speech skills to do that (it's just that I might not initially be able to lipread the woman's request). This approach would put me (and the blind woman) in control -- i.e., I want the help on my own terms, not the terms of the hearing sighted person. In other cases, the hearing sighted person might still need to help verbalize the order, but this should be on request.

Shan said...


FridaWrites said...

What a great employer she must have too--I think most people's prejudices would interfere with hiring her for a checker job. I like that she tells people her disability because she needs to--sometimes I need to as well and feel guilty about it. This tells me I shouldn't feel guilty, that sometimes it just makes things easier.

Heike Fabig said...

This woman sounds like a rare case for the support of cloning. She can teach people a thing or two about disability, and clearly works very efficiently. Great all round. We need more of her!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous - absolutely the control should remain with the cashier and the customer - that should never be in question.