The Invisibility of Disability

Have you ever noticed when you are out shopping with your loved one who has a disability that retail or hospitality staff will ask YOU what THEY want?

Miss Chloe has always watched them to see whether I am going to speak for her AND if I do...she has ALWAYS contradicted me!! I spent a few years feeling guilty that I was 'wasting people's precious time' waiting for Chloe to get the words out. I also felt it was my job to not have them feel 'uncomfortable or embarrassed'  because they didn't understand her the first, second and sometimes third time.

I am so grateful for her tenacity because she taught it SHE WAS WORTH IT!

I was unconsciously telling her that strangers were worth more then her when I spoke for her or tired to hurry her up. It is a long time since she taught me this and every retail or hospitality person EVENTUALLY gets what she is saying and today, I see THAT as customer service. They are learning a great lesson in respect and patience as well.

So next time you speak for your child KNOW you are telling them you don't think they are capable.

I watch Chloe sometimes and it never ceases to amaze me when she is shopping or trying to buy something from a food court, how many times staff see straight through her! She is a polite person and will just keep standing there...waiting, waiting, waiting until eventually a customer will say; "I think you are next".

It is very sad that she (and others with a disability) are invisible to most of society where transactions take place. There seems to be this concept that they wouldn't know, so we will just wait for the carer/person with them to come and tell us what they want.

Chloe was asked to leave a bookshop once because the owner ASSUMED she was under 12 (she was 17). When asked why he didn't just ask how old she was, he looked at me with this look of shock...I really don't think he thought she could talk, so he didn't bother finding out.

We were at a market once in Melbourne and Chloe was buying a t-shirt. She was holding the t-shirt and was in front of me. I was talking to a friend and the stall holder leaned over Chloe and tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I needed anything.

Rather annoyed, I pretended I didn't know Chloe, pointed to her and her t-shirt and suggested it looked like SHE is the next customer!

I spend a lot of time pretending I don't know her and suggest SHE is the customer, so maybe they should ask her...

Another issue we have is the height of the benches in the food courts. They are so high, that even when the service person eventually sees Chloe, they can't understand her because there is so much glass between her and them on the other side. I also found this an issue when I had my stroke and was in a wheelchair.

Perhaps Customer Service staff need to be trained to never assume and maybe some clever inventor will create a disability-friendly way of making the retail and eating out experience more enjoyable for those who are not the generic size, shape or look!

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