I meet usually at least two new people each week through CAB. If I see them as clients I can often find out a lot about them. They rarely learn much about me. I do tell them my name but often that and the fact I’m sat there in a powerchair is all they learn about me.
I also do resident involvement stuff with the housing association I rent from. I’ve made one really good friend through that and I’m friendly with several others. But I’ve met loads of people there. And also because I’ve done disability awareness talks there for staff and tenants there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to stop people and say “sorry I don’t know your name.” and it’s been a case of “oh I forgot we hadn’t be introduced, I was at the such and such talk you did.”
The thing about both situations is that they lead to a lot of polite small talk. I’ve never been a massive fan of Polite Small Talk. And it came to me recently that most of the Polite Small Talk I experience is actually quite ableist. Well, actually it came to me this evening when I was thinking about writing a ranty blog called “it’s ableism when…”
Today I was chatting with a taxi driver on the way somewhere. Started off he was saying how much easier my chair is to secure into the taxi than a lot he gets and then he was telling me about going somewhere with a disabled friend of his and the venue not knowing how to cope. What was I planning to do when I got to my destination? That sort of thing. But then his next gambit in the Polite Small Talk that filled my journey (and which until that point sounded interesting because I’d been hearing about the friend incident and thinking “I must look into this group.”) was “so how long have you been in a wheelchair?”
Ableism disguised as Polite Small Talk has also recently taken the form of “so what do you do?” perfectly reasonable and the follow up “how do you get there?” was also acceptable. But then it was third time’s the charm for the apparently necessary ableism component when they then expressed obvious surprise at the news I go in my powerchair with “oh you can do that by yourself can you?”
In years past there’s also been a rare gathering with my family and another.. Work, and “I hear you’ve a new place” and such like were used for the rest of my family. I got the all time Polite Small Talk gem of “so have you been affected by any of the disability cuts?” implied in that was not only “I don’t care enough about you to want to know anything personal about you.” but maybe even “I hope so you lazy scrounger”
And finally, another throwback. It’s gotta be the always annoying “oh but I was really hoping you could come.” and/or “but it’s only 2/4/15/245 steps we can help you up them, I’ll be really disappointed not to see you.” whenever I decline an invitation because the venue isn’t accessible. If you really wanted meant that and were really hoping I’d come you’d have found an accessible venue.
(I’m wondering now if I’ve ever blogged the story of how the words “oh don’t let that stop you.” basically changed my life but not in the way the idiot who said that expected)