I went out for afternoon tea earlier this week at a local college which specialises in catering courses. They have a regular schedule of service, open to public booking for lunch, dinner and, in this instance, a Mad Hatters Tea Party. All food is made, and served, by the students. Brilliant idea, right?
We’ve been meaning to go for ages and it was great fun, totally accessible for me in my wheelchair and the students, dressed in costume, threw themselves into it. A very pleasant afternoon break for us.
Just one thing happened that threw me a little which was when an elderly lady on an adjacent table, leant across and said to D that he could ‘get her tea or whatever she wants at the table by the window.’ As we sat, mouths agape, our helpful neighbour continued by adding that ‘if she needs something else, I’m sure they’ll get it.’ All without looking at me once.
I was staggered, in part because, on entry, I’d asked this lady to move her chair, very politely thanked her for doing so and laughed with her at the narrow aisle I was passing through to get to our table. So, she knew I was fully compos mentis, articulate etc.
D was kind in response, thanking her. Left to ourselves, we laughed. We didn’t make an issue of it. She was old, of a different generation. We didn’t want to upset her or anyone else but… Should I have said something?
When I am ignored like this, it’s as if people just see the wheelchair and not the person. It’s dehumanising and it’s not the first time it’s happened. Even though I know there are all sorts of reasons for such behaviour, I do feel that, by letting it pass, the behaviour just carries on, doesn’t it?
On other occasions, I have interjected with ‘you can talk to me.’ Mostly, it happens in hospitals or shops but occasionally in restaurants. And it really does bother me. ‘Bring her…’ ‘Does she want…’ ‘What’s her name?’ Etc. Etc.
I. Am. Sitting. Right. There. Why don’t they speak to me?
Sadly, when I do interject, I’m obviously too aggressive as the culprits become overly apologetic – not so much the nurses who tend to size you up with a ‘what’s your problem’ look i.e ‘I don’t give a flying toss about your feelings, I’m gonna do what I do regardless.’
I just can’t get my head round why so many people still don’t see speaking to a person in a wheelchair as being the obvious thing to do even when there’s a walking person accompanying said chair user.
Do they really not see me? Maybe my chair is an actual invisibility cloak.
I wonder what other wheelchair users do in this situation?