By Brad Whitmoyer, PRC ambassador
The question of whether to go to Grocery Store A or Grocery Store B is usually a decision based factors such as variety, prices and convenience. Personally, most of the time, I like going to Grocery Store A because they have much bigger selection and a couple of items that the other grocery store doesn’t carry. Even though Grocery Store A is little out of the way and it’s much harder to leave without buying things I didn’t particularly go for, not to mention getting what I actually went there to get, I like going there anyway most of the time. However, within the last year or so, there has been a deterrent for me going there.
This deterrent is nothing new really, I have been dealing with these kinds of annoyances all of my life. What also is not new is not knowing what exactly to do about it. The situation is a greeter at the store treating me kind of like a child. Up until I was about twenty-five, it really irritated me when people did this for the simple fact that you wouldn’t treat somebody my age that way if they didn’t have a disability so why did my disability bring that out in people? Immediately I would go straight to them demeaning me since I had a disability and they felt they had to pity me. While this might be the reason some, and maybe even most, people treat me this way, there have been two questions that I have been debating with myself on for a while now.
The first question is whether certain people treat me this way due to me having a disability. I don’t think there is any question that at least some people do it because I have a disability and I don’t exactly blame them for it. They are simply reacting based on the stereotype they have learned or they simple have never encountered the experience. I use to think that this was not a good excuse because I’m a person just like them. However, let’s take a very straight forward example of where somebody doesn’t know how to act even though you might think it should come natural. Let’s take a new mother who just had her first baby. While yes, it comes easier to some than others but in general, a new mother has very little idea of how to care for a newborn. Why is this though if women have been doing it for the entire existence of the human race, shouldn’t it come naturally? Obviously this is a rhetorical question because if you ask most new mothers, they will probably tell you they are scared to death. However, since they are thrown into the situation, they do the best they can and, sure they might not do everything correctly but by the time they have a second or third kid, you can bet they are better equipped to handle situations. While it might sound a little ridiculous, this is exactly the same when it comes to someone encountering a person with a disability. They are simply acting on inexperience and/or stereotypes that they have learned. In order to not get upset when this happens, it’s important to understand this!
It is also important to note that I am definitely not giving anyone a pass on this ignorance, which leads me right into the second question I’ve been debating for quite some time now. What do you say to people who treat you this way? In my earlier years, I was quick to jump to tell them that I wasn’t a child and to stop treating me as such. However, here as of lately I have been trying to put myself in their shoes and think maybe they are simply trying to be nice or maybe it’s just their personality. I’m sure you probably know people who are just very friendly and outgoing. The combination of different personalities and the inexperience that some people have makes it very difficult to know what to say to people because you don’t want to hurt their feelings if they are genuinely being nice. Obviously there are some blatantly obvious scenarios where they are treating me differently just because I’m in a wheelchair. Such as louder or slower than normal speech when speaking to me. The question is what do you do when you don’t know if the person is just trying to be nice and just from inexperience doesn’t realize they’re being condescending.
This is a question that I am still struggling with because you don’t want to hurt their feelings if they are just being themselves but at the same time, if they are being condescending due to their inexperience, something needs to be said so that they get experience. I think it also depends on the type of acquaintance it is. For example, if they are a new care giver who you are going to see a lot, then most likely if you give them a week or so, they might come around on their own to realize they don’t have to treat you like a child. And if they don’t realize this on their own, you are going to have to say something. With a stranger who you only see once in a while, I think it’s just a personal judgement call you have to decide for yourself. If you think they are treating you a certain way just because that is their personality, then I personally just leave it alone since it’s not due to having a disability, unless of course it is unbearably uncomfortable. But if I feel that they are doing something out of their normal demeanor because I have a disability, then I will be more inclined to speak up.
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