To The Staff in the Office Where I Had An Appointment Last Week:
I won’t stand for it.
I saw the look in each of your eyes as soon as I entered the office. The look of fear mixed with pity mixed with “I don’t know what to do.” I said hello and you all averted your eyes, not quite sure how to respond. The minute you spotted my caregiver, I disappeared. Maybe you thought I could not communicate on my own. Maybe you thought that my caregiver knew more about some of the details of my life than I do. I don’t presume to know what you were thinking. I do know that you asked my caregiver for information about me, things like the status of my health and what issue had brought me into the office. You asked my caregiver if she had my insurance cards. You pretended, as much as you could, that I wasn’t in your presence.
Let me tell you something. I get it. Really I do. When I am around a particular group of people I am not familiar with, it is awkward. And I get scared sometimes. The reason for my fear is that I never want to offend anyone or say the wrong thing, so sometimes it is easier and more convenient not to say anything. That is the safest course of action, and the only way to guarantee that I don’t make any mistakes. I have been there.
But here is the deal. It also doesn’t change anything. If I don’t face my fears in situations like that, they will always be awkward and uncomfortable. And since I don’t like those feelings, it makes sense to me to do whatever I need to not to experience them.
I heard this quote once. “If you always do what you have always done, things will always be how they have always been.” In situations like this, staying with the status quo is unacceptable. Because sometimes, doing nothing is the most offensive thing of all.
There is no way you could know how hard I worked to earn a Master’s degree after I finished college. You didn’t know me when I pulled “all nighters” to study for exams and you don’t know about the countless hours that I spent in the library doing research. I can’t fault you for not knowing that I earned those degrees. But I can be offended that you made the assumption that, because I have a physical disability, I could not communicate the information you were asking for independently. You did not give me that chance.
The caregiver that accompanied me to the appointment that day was there solely because she provided transportation. My disability prevents me from driving.
So I have a question, and I ask it as gently and with as much compassion as I have within me.
Would you have a policy in your office that said that you can only ask men for some information you need because you assume that women don’t know the information you’re asking, or you make the assumption that women cannot speak for themselves?
Did you gasp? Because that would be outrageous, right? No business in the country would have a policy like that and get away with it. If that policy existed, that business would not be in business very long.
And yet that is the unspoken policy in your office and in many other businesses that have staff who think it’s appropriate to look to my caregiver to communicate instead of to me. Although I totally understand that it was not intentional and nobody got out of bed that morning with the purpose of irritating my day, assuming I can’t communicate for myself comes across to me as demeaning and hurtful. It felt like none of you thought I was a person. Nobody should feel that way. Ever.
My cerebral palsy means that I have issues with balance and coordination and that there are many spasms in my body, and all of that can make my life a drag sometimes. I cannot stand or walk independently. Therefore I use a wheelchair for mobility. Cerebral palsy doesn’t affect my mind or my ability to communicate, and that would be true even if it did affect my speech.
So I am requesting that the next time I come into your office for an appointment, be willing to stretch out of your comfort zone and give me the benefit of the doubt. Please treat my caregiver politely, the way you would a cab driver who did an excellent job getting me there. Then, return my greeting, look me in the eye, and ask your questions of me directly, expecting me to answer you with accurate information.
Because I shouldn’t have to stand to be respected.