Monday, February 20, 2006

Levels of appropriateness

Despite my desire not to work with the disabled community, I found myself working with just that population a couple of years ago. You would think that those who work with disability would be a little more enlightened about disability. As I'm sure many of you have experienced, this is far from being usually the case. My boss at the time was, well... (looking for a nice word for a lunatic...) ... odd. At the beginning, things were fine. She was very nice and supportive. Then one day she went ballistic. I had forgotten to do something. Totally my fault. I apologized and felt bad. It should have been over and done with, but no... she brings it up again a couple months later when she is not happy with my performance. You don't need to know the details, just enough of that background to understand the rest. I told her I had to write things down as people tell them to me, or else it's gone. Her next question to me was: "Do you have a shunt?". Holy freaking cow! I was dumbfounded! I could not believe she asked me that. I was so incredilous, in fact, that I could think of nothing to do but answer her "no". Now, for those of you who may not know about a shunt, it is a tube inserted in the head to drain water that forms on the brain in a condition called hydrocephalus, which is a condition that sometimes is associated with my disability, spina bifida.

That was pretty freakin' inappropriate in my opinion. I thought someone who had spent 15+ years working with people with disabilities would know enough to differentiate that I am a co-worker and NOT a patient. My work there, luckily, ended very shortly afterwards.

I work in a hospital now. I find that working with patients can be interesting and many of them ask me about my disability. Who asks, and the context, will determine the answer I give. I do find a small number of colleagues ask me. I had a physio ask me once and she said she was curious as it was her profession to work with people with disabilities. I answered her coz I liked her. I've had other colleagues who ask me and I tell them I'd rather not answer. But, I am uncomfortable telling someone that what they've just asked me is inappropriate. I am all to aware of the "bitch" image that we can get when we get angry at others for trying to help or being curious or whatever.

I've also had doctors who tell me I am very independent. (Duh!... thanks, I didn't know). I guess by comparison I am able to move more than many others with disabilities. But, my arms work perfectly so why the hell should it be so amazing that I can... actually... use... them?

A disabled but able to walk friend of mine once told me that when she was younger she thought she was pregnant. She went to her doctor and her doctor immediately booked an abortion for her without asking her for consent or even her wishes.

Taxi drivers ask me why I don't take the disabled transit service. (I do, by the way, just not all the time).

A academic/vocational counselor, when I approached her for help on getting into the social work program suggested I do some volunteer work with the paraplegic association. When I told her I wasn't interested in working with people with disabilities she said "how about the association for the blind"?

Someone tried to pay for me in the grocery store once.

Someone tried to give me money while I was waiting at a corner for friends (wearing an expensive suede jacket and bunch of large university text books on my lap). He asked if I were really disabled. I said "uhhh, yes..." and when he proceeds to give me some change, I tell him I am not begging but simply waiting.

A neighbour who offers help every time I see them.

A landlord who won't change the direction of a bathroom door so I can fit in and rent the apartment with some privacy when I have guests.

A landlord who tells me he can take the bathroom door right off so I can fit in and rent the apartment without some privacy when I have guests.


The Angry Gimp said...

Wow, I can't wait to start my new job working with disabled people now... ;-)

I've worked with people with disabilities in the past, and I actually didn't like it, because the focus was always on my disability. I don't want it to be my whole life. I think the people I'm going to be working for are different, though - they seem to treat everyone the same.

Ranter said...

I think it completely depends on your environment. Some work places just breed a certain type. Especially in smaller places, where the people hiring are looking for the same type, I imagine. I hope you have a good experience and can teach them a lot without becoming the "inspirational example"!