On my way to Sensing Culture, an event held at the Lewes Castle, aiming to make museum and heritage visits more inclusive and multi-sensory in experience, I was thinking the following. Disabilities are a tad analogous to coins. I came to this playful semi-conclusion based on two funny things that has happened to me today. But we’ll get to that in a minute, let’s first follow up on why would disabilities be anything like coins. Well, because just like any special need, any disabled person, coins also come in various shapes, sizes, colours, materials they are made of and, yes, value as well. Disabled people are no different. We come in a wide variety of flavours. Oh, and that’s of course true for the enabled community as well.
So what are the two things that inspired this thought over a 6 minutes train journey I couldn’t classify very long and thereby not a very deep thought either? Again like a coin has two faces, people can treat disabilities in two extremes. Very upswing, or very patronising. Now here is the first example. I’m standing in an office, talking to an admin staff member. I’m standing there with my white, long cane straight out, in front of me, perfectly mid-way between me and the person asking for my National ID. I hand it to her, she walks away to confirm my identity, and comes back in a minute, ready to hand back the document, while she exclaims: Here is your driving license, Sir! Yeah, well, now you learnt something new. Apparently she thinks blind people can do anything they want, including driving. She is not alone, the shiny side of the coin is that often people will assume disability is no barrier to anything, which personally I prefer. So to conclude the first mini-story, I took my “driving license”, thanked her, and asked if we could hurry the administration as I don’t want to get a ticket on my car.
Now unfortunately, sometimes people think the opposite. The tail of the coin is that, just because you can not see, you can not speak either and therefore will respond to your friend on your side who doesn’t even speak the local language, even though you asked a simple question. This happens often too, and today on Lewes train station was no different. I’ve only asked for assisted travel to get around platforms. For one reason or an other, similarly what usually happens on airports, with the slight alternation, I didn’t get a wheel-chair but a ramp. Clearly people at the station assumed because one can not see, they can not make a step down to the platform. Meanwhile, I was welcomed by a good friend, who apparently treated my arrival as a celebrity, not to mention that with a group of people we have this ongoing joke about me being ‘famous’. So it’s really not the fact that they offered a ramp that made me laugh, but that they forgot to roll out the red carpet…
Of course we are talking about extremes when comparing how people treat disabilities as a heads or tails scenario, but unfortunately the ratio of people who honestly know how to cope with it, are probably the same fraction as how it’s likely that a flipped coin will end up on its edge.