Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wherein I become THE PUBLIC

I was about to disembark. The ramp was down, the speed on my wheelchair was lowered and I was getting into place. Just then Joe asked me to wait for a second because he wanted to get my hat, scarf and gloves so I could put them on as soon as I was out in the cold. In that very short time a man with an intellectual disability came along, a very tall, very thin, man. He looked to be somewhere in his thirties. He asked Joe a couple questions about the MV1, we're used to this now, and then leaned against the building.

Joe knows I don't like to have an audience when I'm getting in and out of the vehicle so he just positioned himself in front of the man. Joe's job is to ensure I stay straight on the ramp and come off without disaster. The fellow then moved over, smiled at me, and said, "I want to watch you come down the ramp." I was now teetering at the top. I saw there was no malice in him, but he was staring at me intensely, uncomfortably.

I said, "This is kind of private for me and I would rather you didn't watch."

He got very defensive and said, "I'm not doing anything, I'm just watching."

In the kindest voice I could muster I said, "I know, I know you are just watching. But sometimes people don't want to be watched and most times people don't want to be stared at."

"Oh, Oh, Oh, OK." he said and stepped over to the side, out of my view.I came down the ramp and Joe flung my scarf over my shoulders and I was putting on my gloves which I hadn't realised that Joe had kept warm by placing under the floor heater of the car. Lovely.

He appeared again. He said, "Thank you for telling me to move, thank you for telling me not to stare at you. I keep upsetting people and I never know why. I wish people would tell me when I do something that makes them mad."

I reassured him I wasn't mad. I also suggested to him that it wasn't people's job to let him know how they are reacting to him. I asked him if they seem to get mad when he's watching or staring. He paused and said, "Yes." "Then ....?" I asked. "I shouldn't stare." I told him that's a good idea.

I asked him if he had support staff and if they had talked to him about staring at and watching people. He said they had. Then he said, "But they are on my back about everything, I thought that it was just another thing to bug me about. It was different for you to say it. You're just ..." Then he was lost for a way to describe me. Finally he said, "You're just THE PUBLIC."

I laughed and said that I was. We said goodbye, I wished him well. He was a nice guy - and I hope that he learned something today. I know I did.


Glee said...

Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!! :)

clairesmum said...

Dave, I am amazed again at your willingness to allow a part of your daily life to become a teachable moment, and to share it with us so that the experience is not limited to you and Joe and the other man. The connection and change in this event becomes shared with us, inviting us to join in the bit of transformation that occurs.

Anonymous said...

I felt so bad for your watcher - his support staff is always on his back about everything?

And he learned more from a quick interaction with you than from probably lots of time with them.

Sad. Since he also seemed to understand you quickly, and be able to converse.

Glad he ran into you in his life - you do even mildly negative interactions with class.


EK said...

Hm. I do sympathize a bit with the guy - part of my disability is a (relatively) inability to infer these kinds of things from ambiguous social signals (and almost all social signals are more ambiguous/unreliable than more typical people assume; what you described is not in fact as straightforward an inference as it seems). I don't think it's people's job to tell me what their reactions to me are, but people close to me, or in positions of authority over me, do need to make that (very basic, very simple) accommodation.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I got stuck on the fact that his staff is on his back about everything and therefore he does not listen to them. Since when is it part of the job to nag people to the point where they cannot listen to you anymore??? Isn't it supposed to be "support" that is being provided?

I am glad that he got to meet you and chat with you and learn something about social interactions that involve polite conversation and not nagging.


Anonymous said...

what a wonderful exchange! i drive a manual chair with a "pivot" lever drive system, and have gotten into several conversations about it. i'm always pleased when people ask questions rather than stare or make up their own stories about me.