A post from Sunny, co-founder of The Musical Autist
The other day, I went to the store and bought myself an iPhone charger. After I got the charger that I wanted, I paid for it at the checkout counter. When I was finished paying, the cashier looked at Zoe, my worker, and said, “Can I get a bag for her?” Zoe replied, “You can ask her.” The person she was talking about was me. The cashier then turned to me and said, “May I get a bag for your charger?” I said, “Yes you may.”
Many people assume that people with disabilities are unable to speak. I am totally blind. When you see a person walking with a white cane, it is safe to assume that they are totally blind or visually impaired. However, it is not safe to assume that that person is unable to speak. I noticed that a lot of community workers will automatically turn to our support person rather than us, the individual with a disability, if the worker has a question. I don’t think this is the best way to interact with anyone, especially people with disabilities.
For those of us with a disability that does not allow us to speak, many people are still able to communicate by typing on an iPad or using alternative communication devices. Many deaf people use sign language and an interpreter that can speak on behalf of the deaf person. Most of us, whether we have a disability or not, are perfectly capable of communicating our needs and wants to everyone around us, including community workers. Those of us without access to communication technology still deserve to be addressed as people, and if we require additional support our support person will then step in. It is also important that professionals empower individuals with disabilities to use their voices to communicate with whomever they come in contact with. The Musical Autist empowers people in a way that presumes competence. The idea of speaking directly to a person parallels the idea that all people, both neurotypicals and people on the spectrum, have something important to contribute.
This message is primarily for people who work in stores, restaurants, and other places of business, but this message also goes out to anyone in the public eye who encounters people with disabilities. It is important to address us rather than the people who are working with us. No matter how severe our disabilities may be, people should presume that we have intelligent minds and can understand when we are being talked to. We may not all communicate the same way, but many of us have the capability of communicating everything that we need and want to people in business and everyone else who we come in contact with.
Let us all remember to ask the individual with a disability whatever questions you may have. Please don’t talk about us, but please talk to us. I hope that this message was very educational to all those who work in restaurants, stores, and other public businesses when it comes to encountering people with disabilities. Let us show respect and talk to the person rather than the person that supports us. That way, we all have something to contribute to this world and we can presume competence in everyone, disabled or not.
Denise Portis says
Great blog piece. I had this happen a number of times when my children were younger and always with me when we were shopping. It was so aggravating for the waiter or cashier to ask them questions to ask me… and I was standing right there! I plan to share this piece. Well done!
Carol Diachenko says
Very well written and expressed, Sunny! Thank you for this insightful blog. Carol