Saturday, February 01, 2014

Wow and Double Wow


I mean, really, deeply, WOW!

After doing a brief bit of research on the web looking for hotels in a city I've not been to before, I found a couple possibilities. I wrote down their phone numbers preferring, as a disabled guest, to actually speak to someone about accessible options. I usually stay with a hotel chain that has a very solid process for booking accessible rooms but they didn't have a hotel within driving distance of where we were going. I took a breath and picked up the phone.

All was going well. Dates and time of arrival were done and then I asked if they had any accessible rooms available for the days I'd be there. The woman on the phone asked, "What kind of accessible room does he need?" I corrected her, kindly, "Oh, I'm making this reservation for myself, I am a wheelchair user." She filled the word "Oh" with so much meaning it almost tipped over.

Then, she started speaking more slowly to me. Up till then we'd been talking at a brisk pace. Up till then she'd assumed, I don't know why, that someone without a disability was making a reservation for someone with a disability. With accurate information everything shifted in her head, and with that shift came a new and different manner. She spoke more slowly. She double checked my answers. She said, "Are you sure you've checked those dates on your calender?" At one point she wanted to know whose credit card I was going to use to book the room. When I said, "I'll be using my own." She said, "Oh" again as if her voice was full of helium.

When it was all done, and I'm sure it took much longer than it would have if Joe had been making it for me, as he sometimes does. My disability changed me from just a voice on a phone line to an image in her head. In her mind people with disabilities have things done for them, need things explained several times, make simple mistakes about things like dates and DON'T have a credit card.

Did I kick up a fuss? No. I need a hotel room. This was my preferred hotel to stay in. I'll talk to the manager on check out, for now, I need a room not a battle.

But ... really ... WOW.

That's how deep it goes ... prejudices and preconceptions of people with disabilities. Just knowing that a faceless voice rides on wheels is enough to elicit discriminatory practise.


And beyond Wow ... shit!


Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

So disappointing. I squirmed my way through the rest of your post - embarrassed for you, for her. Angry AT her.


Naomi said...

Yes, and no.
I get that you have a physical disability, and she treated you like you had an intellectual disability, and that was an offensive stereotype.
But she has also adjusted her tone to accommodate, and has tried to ensure she is not insensitive to someone who may well have a physical and intellectual disability.
In fact, in some ways, we should laud her inability to presume that a physical disability precludes an intellectual disability.
Nobody wants to be patronised. But is it actually patronising to speak plain English to someone who needs it? She has nothing to go by but your voice on the phone.
Are any of us expert at determining the needs of someone about whom we have so little information?
Would it make a difference if you knew that her sister had both physical and intellectual disabilities, and had been spoken for so many times that she just wants to check that she is hearing the actual desire of the person involved?
For me this says nothing about the individual on the call. We don't know her story at all.
It does remind me now we are uncomfortable with asking, and staging, specific needs.
And, much as I love your blog Dave, I would ask you, why do you feel so offended that she tars you with the brush of intellectual disability?
It is the same we need to fight, not our own personal ability not to be include in the group being shamed.

Naomi said...

Yesterday I conducted a legal interview with a man with a disability. He was asked to sign a form. He was resistant, saying "I don't understand this word, I don't know what you mean, I don't have a legal education."
He has a physical disability, and a PHD.
Easily a thousand clients have signed that form, too embarrassed to mention how much of it they don't understand.
His immunity to shame made him ask a question not critical to him, he got the gist, but very important for those with a different kind of disability.

Rachel in Idaho said...

Oh how COMPLETELY INFURIATING. I do the same job, booking hotel rooms, and have on occasion spoken to prospective guests requesting accessible rooms for themselves. NEEDLESS TO SAY I speak to them no differently than anybody else. This makes all of us look bad! Arrrrrrrrrgh!

I have, however, wanted to speak to a few people booking such rooms for other people about how THEY talked about said person.

Maggie said...

I hope your conversation with the manager is soon enough that, when the manager speaks to her about it, she'll be able to recall the conversation - and the manager will be able to correctly identify the employee who spoke that way to you.

Just 'yikes;' I don't seem to have better words today.

Dave Hingsburger said...


First, thanks for your comment. My blog was about the fact that she changed her manner of speech after we had already done things like establish dates of travel and time of arrival. By then she should have realized that we were communicating in the way we needed to and adaptaion wasn't necessary. Secondly, and this is important, I object to the patronizing tone of voice when it's used on anyone including people with intellectual disabilities. I have written often about the horrible use of 'they spoke to me like I had an intellectual disability' line - as if anyone should be spoken to in that manner.

emma vanderklift said...

Hi Dave,
Couldn't agree with you more! Naomi, using clear language is far from patronizing language, and most of us know the difference. Too many times disabled people get asked to turn the other cheek to insult. While battles must be picked (and it isn't the job of disabled people to always be the educators of the public), not calling people on their behaviour and assumptions means that the status quo will continue.

Condescension is the bane of our existence, too. Worst example (sadly, one of many) was the clerk at the hotel desk who yelled over Norm's head - he was checking out, and I was managing the luggage across a vast marble lobby - "Is he allowed to check out?" !!!???

Everyone in the lobby turned to look at me, and then at Norm. One of those moments when you just don't know what to say (or maybe I did know, but worried the words I wanted to use would burn the place down :-).

Sam Connor said...

I know exactly what you mean.

The most comment reaction I get if I tell people I have children is 'oh'. Backed up by 'good for you'.

That particular 'tone' - it isn't about speaking in plain English, it is about dumbing down and being condescending and patronising and speaking to you as though you were a small child. You don't do that to people with an intellectual disability - or anyone else.

Makes you feel yuck for the rest of the day. Send her a copy of your blog.

Naomi said...

Fair call Dave, and agree that patronising is not the same as clear.
And it is incredibly difficult to educate someone who thinks they are doing the right thing, but are being patronising. Because then you will be painted as bitter.
So, to the part we all agree on, how do we ensure EVERYBODY is spoken to in a manner which is both respectful, and able to be understood?

Anonymous said...

Dave, I was going to respond to Naomi's comment but you've already said exactly what I wanted to say, although much better than I would have said it. Please let us know how your conversation goes with the manager when you check out.

Bernie Oster

B. said...

Thanks, recognize another one. I have a confession to make. I have talked like that to a 'normal' person -- slower speaking and more distinct. I don't think they liked it either.

Unknown said...

As you know, Dave, for more than a couple of decades, Emma and I have been speaking and writing on the issue of patronization. What I’ve found fascinating is that, although most people understand the demeaning nature of patronization, there is always a small group of people like Naomi who just seem incapable of recognizing that patronization is an expression of devaluation. Instead they stubbornly insist that it’s an innocent mistake borne out of a well-intentioned attempt to help. The really frustrating thing is that there seems to be no way of explaining to people like Naomi how insulting and infuriating a slur like this. They remain absolutely convinced that they’re right and have been misunderstood, and all the disabled people who take exception to this interpretation are necessarily wrong. In the words of Paulo Friere, “They suffer from an absence of self-doubt.”

Anonymous said...

It isn't really funny, but reading this post did make me wryly smile and shake my head. The response is like so many upon finding out someone doesn't speak English (insert local language here) and therefor speaks louder. Yup - that does it. Now they understand English. Language skills is a volume thing...:-) oh brother. I do applaud those that speak simply and slowly and clearly with respect to those that need it, although I certainly think the hotel reservation clerk took a giant step backwards, especially having conducted business for a few minutes with Dave. I'm surprised she also didn't speak louder, for obviously it works ever so well!! Ha! Geesh. What a slap in the face. Another area for workshops Dave, hotel/restaurant management courses!!

Jayne wales said...

She needs serious help. I would feel sorry for if it wasn't so insulting