Would You Ask the Person in the Wheelchair to Stand Up?
Perhaps you’re wondering what this statement is all about. When sharing my personal story of diversity, the stories that contribute to the sum of my experience are endless. My inspiration for this blog post comes from my experience just a few weeks ago in attempting to renew my Health Card. Mind you, this most recent experience was vastly better than five years ago when I was asked very slowly and condescendingly to produce a copy of my “International Driver’s Licence” (P.S., I’m blind so do not drive, and have lived in Windsor my entire life...), this experience certainly didn’t disappoint.
Given that I do not have a driver’s licence, I came prepared with my passport and piece of mail from my bank as proof of address, as I learned my lesson the last time I tried to renew with insurance documents, which although is on their approved list, was somehow unacceptable. Surprisingly, although on their approved list, my piece of mail from the bank was not acceptable. Digital copies of other documents weren’t acceptable either. Attempting to explain the circumstance of why I do not have a driver’s licence, I received no help, and was turned away. I was given a fine print list of other documents that are acceptable and sent on my way.
Round two. I came back with twenty minutes to spare before they closed, and was lucky enough to get the same attendant as earlier. She begrudgingly accepted the letter and pay-stub from the Ondrovcik Svec Rehabilitation Clinics, although it, too, was on their approved list, and processed my request. I was then asked to “sign here”, and a piece of paper plopped in front of me. I asked for more specific direction...blind, remember? At this point, I was rather frustrated. Not only have I been given the run-around for not having a driver’s licence, but this individual is giving instructions that do not accommodate or consider the disabled person at their desk.
Last straw. Time to take a picture. “OK ma’am, we need to take your picture now”. I proceeded in the direction of where she gestured, at which point, she instructed me to remove my glasses. I protested and indicated that I need my glasses to function, and was allowed to leave them on for past photos because of this fact. She insisted, and said no. Feeling I had already drawn too much attention to myself, I obliged, removed my glasses, left them at the counter as instructed, and with difficulty, found my way to where the photo was being taken. I was then asked to look directly at the camera...
To someone like me, this is equivalent to asking someone who uses a wheel chair to stand up for their photo.
Bonus Round: Who can point out all the mistakes this person made that day? I can imagine that some may read this and think I am whining or complaining, but the reality here is that this situation began and ended within the scope of my disability, and would have been a markedly different experience for someone who was sighted. A routine thing such as renewing a health card should not be an event which requires me, or anyone for that matter, to have to advocate for compassion and understanding.
After this interaction, my husband and I were understandably unimpressed; sadly, however, not surprised. I reflected for some time on how perhaps I could have managed the situation differently or better, and then began to feel badly for being curt to this attendant. How unfortunate, though, that it escalated to where it did. If this person had stopped and listened to me, understood that because I don’t drive it would be a major challenge for me to come back at another time to complete the process, with a slightly different document from the same bank as the document I brought in.
Accommodating diversity doesn’t have to mean bending or changing the rules. It doesn’t mean you sit back and say, “sorry, can’t help you”. Accommodating and understanding diversity means using common sense, first and foremost, and approaching problems with compassionate solutions. Help those who are different maintain their dignity and independence. Ironically, diversity isn’t about pointing out differences, but rather, it’s about helping everyone operate on a level playing field.