67% of People Don't Want to Talk to Disabled People
I have a best friend who is 'abled'. I've known her forever and our relationship endured longer than my marriage did. We do almost everything together and she was there the day my son was born and was the first non-relative to hold him. We talk about love, men, kids, politics (rather heatedly), work and every subject you could imagine. One day she rather irritatingly said to me
"No body talks to you when we're out together - if they ask a question they always approach me."
It was true. If someone wanted to know the time or ask directions, they asked her, even though I was standing there too. No one ever approaches me unless I am alone and there is no one else to ask. Worse still, they'd assume she was my mother or that my son was hers, because disabled people obviously can't be independent or have children.
One of the worst experiences I ever had was on a trip to the States. I had taken my children to an outdoor play park and they were playing with a friend's child and an American boy. My friend began to speak to the mother of the American boy and I interjected into the conversation, trying to join in, when she abruptly turned to my friend and said
"Oh, I didn't know she could talk."
I was so appalled, I called my children to come away and we left the park, with my friend saying
"It's the countryside here, they don't see a lot of disabled people!"
Horrifying wasn't even a strong enough word.
I contemplated this hideous experience when reading a report by Scope, revealing that 67% of the 'abled' British public don't feel comfortable talking to a disabled person because they don't know how to communicate with us or they are worried they will say the wrong thing. They don't see us as people and just see the disability.
I was pondering this fact one day when waiting at a bus stop outside a record store with my son, trying to explain to him what a vinyl was. An elderly woman began making conversation and asked what school my son attended so I told her he was home schooled. Her response was
"Is he your carer?", because of course a parent with a disability cannot choose to home educate without someone assuming it's because they want to turn their child into a personal slave.
"NO!, absolutely NOT!", I almost barked at her because I was so tired at everyone believing disabled people need 'care'.
You remember the steam roller scene in Naked Gun? That was the image that briefly flashed in my mind as I wanted to flatten her. The atmosphere went decidedly icy and we didn't speak again. Perhaps, I reflected, it was just as well that 67% of people don't want to talk to me.
But my son and my daughter both have disabilities too and I want them to spend their adulthood in a kinder world than the one I have experienced and that is what drives me to continue the fight for equal disabled parenting rights.