Thursday, August 21, 2014

Let us teach you.

After my usual Wednesday night at the movies, I decided to go for a burger at one of my favorite diners. From the moment I've set by one of their booths (although my wheelchair barely fits in its opening) everything happened quite routinely. They moved the napkin holder from the far end of the table for me, because I would not be able to do it myself, brought me some plastic forks, helped me with my drink and served the food to my table. They know me well, so I don't have to ask. It feels like a dance or a ritual before I get to eat my meal. I get a very pleasant experience and I'm always willing to leave a tip. Not having to ask a random patron at the next table to move something for me makes me feel much better. There isn't any shame in asking for help and I do need it with certain things admittedly.  But I do smile when somebody thought of those things for me, before I had to ask. I was of course the one who told them what I needed, educated them if you will on how to approach and deal with a customer in a wheelchair. Since  they realized what I struggle with they just do it and rarely forget. I guess it's difficult for most people to put themselves in a position of a wheelchair user. Quite frankly they never needed to. Many places, although wheelchair accessible are not particularly wheelchair friendly. Even the burger joint that I frequent and love wasn't equipped with the people like me in mind. Between the narrow booths and the tall tables and bar stools that are too high for me, my sitting options are limited. Then, the condiments, spices or napkins are out of my reach. But as soon as the people working there understand what the problem is they are more than willing to help. More often than not I deal with restaurant hosts not quite sure where to sit me. While my companions get understandably annoyed, I tell myself that person never had to deal with something like this before. Nobody taught her if you will. If there only was a course that you can take if you are a clerk, a barista, a server to understand the needs and problems of a person with disability. Not about what the law says and what the ADA standards are necessarily, but to be able to proactively and productively assist people with special needs. Not knowing how to help is one thing, but sometimes being in the way does more bad or good. I looked around as I was having my guilty pleasure of a dinner and I thought about all the places and people I have trained if you will to help me get what I needed. Teaching people has been on my mind ever since my Director of  Resource Development brought up the idea at our Foundation's meeting last Friday. We need to start educating establishments on how to have their workers behave in these situations. We are now working on curriculum, that we plan to finalize by the end of September. My first thought was: How would we even get started? I don't know how to teach people about disability. I don't want this to come across cheeky- but then I realized that I've been teaching people about disability all my life. Simply just being around me they started to understand my limitations, how I approach obstacles, what I need and what I can't and cannot do. As they saw it, the took it with them and thought about it some more and developed a greater understanding. I think that would be our goal, although on a greater scale- to get people to see and think and care.

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