Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Public’s Attitudes – Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009

Disablism. Attitudes. It’s insidious, really. Sometimes disablism happens when you don’t really expect it, and someone looking from the outside wouldn’t see it. And it tends to happen so often that many of us with disabilities tune it out. I was at the grocery store last week and something happened that broke through my mental "idiocy filter".

This supermarket is modernising! They recently installed self check-out counters. It had only been going for a couple of days, so they still had many employees around, making sure they could help patrons and teach them how to use the machine.

The staff at the self check-out machine I used asked me if it was the first time I use these machines. I answered "Yes". She then walked me through the process of checking out. So far, so good.

I had a grapefruit in my purchases. I grabbed it and put it on the tray. She said in a somewhat patronising tone “What is that?”, *probably* meaning that I need to look the name of the item up on the screen, using the first letter of the name of the item.

Feeling somewhat cheeky and in the mood to joke, I said "It’s a banana!", with a big grin on my face. She said “No, it’s aaaa Grrrrr….., aa Grrrrrr…“. So I played really stupid, and said “Oh, you mean a grape?”. She then said “No no, it is a grape*fruit*“, then proceeded to bend over me, balancing with one hand on the back of my wheelchair, to reach the touch screen and tap the “grapefruit” button.

I was gobsmacked. What do you do? What do you say? Nothing, really. There’s nothing to do or say to combat these well meaning individuals who are unlikely to ever get it. Of course, I use a wheelchair, it must mean I also have a cognitive impairment… I’m certainly not saying that having a cognitive impairment is a negative. But the assumption that because I am paralysed I must also be either deaf or cognitively impaired shows the ignorant attitudes of Joe Q Public in bright neon signs.

A mate told me I asked for it, and perhaps I did. Still. This really got under my skin.

Ahhh, life from a wheelchair, hard to beat some days! :)

P.S. This is at the same supermarket who refuses to enforce disability parking spaces, claiming that people abusing the spaces without permits "are our customers too". I’d shop elsewhere if it was a real option, which it isn’t for me.

4 thoughts on “Public’s Attitudes – Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009

  1. Oh my word! What’re the laws like on disablism in your neck of the woods? You shouldn’t have to put up with that! That person should be fired.

  2. There’s nothing wrong with the laws, really. No better nor worse than other countries I’ve lived in.

    I don’t think that person should be fired, but perhaps some awareness training for the staff would help. Or maybe it wouldn’t. There are some people that are beyond the reach of that kind of stuff, even though they are good, well meaning people.

  3. Must be so frustrating for you!!

    Those self serve machines have been in Aussie stores for a while. When I first went to use one, I wanted help… but the staff member just looked at me as if I knew what was what. This was after I watched her help an elderly lady and an asian man… then she walked away when it was my turn. Opposite experience to your own… would you call that ironic?

  4. Ugh.

    No, I think I’d call that “typical” rather than ironic. Customer service, it isn’t what it used to be…

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