A large portion of all conversations that I overhear whilst on a bus concern the apparently limitless ways my fellow passengers are let down, betrayed, cheated, insulted, abused, reviled, vilified and unbelievably wronged! I sometimes wonder just how it’s possible that a single person could attract quite so much hostility and plain bad luck, but evidently it can be achieved. For myself, I find the world a largely pleasant place, and I have to think hard to recall an instance when someone has been rude to me in public. But, it can happen.
This is a letter I wrote a while back to a medical practice:
Dear etc etc,
I visited the practice yesterday for the appointment recorded on the card I have attached to this letter: 1pm on the 12th (etc).
Unfortunately the receptionist could not find an appointment on your system. I did not have the card with me, as I had transferred it to my diary, but I was able to check my diary at the counter, and I knew with virtual certainty that I was there at the right time.
The appointment had been booked a week earlier, on Monday 5th. I had read some paperwork for the procedure at the counter, and the receptionist had made the appointment and then written it onto the attached card.
My reason for writing is not about the apparent loss of an appointment on your system, but the way in which it was handled. At no point did the receptionist I met yesterday offer anything like an apology for the error, the inconvenience, for the portion of my day that had been wasted, or for the fact that another appointment had to be made. It was a brief conversation, and at one point the receptionist repeated what had already been conveyed quite clearly, and which I had just as clearly understood, saying, “What I am trying to explain to you is that there is no appointment on our system”, as if the issue were not one of software or human error, but somehow lay in my failure to comprehend the problem.
I use a wheelchair, and just occasionally I feel the need to ‘go in to bat’ for other wheelchair users. I understand the point I want to make here is difficult to defend with evidence, however please bear with me. I spent my adult life up until a few years ago as a normal, ambulant person with a career and so on, and I feel sure that if I had been standing in a shirt and tie at the counter yesterday, rather than using a wheelchair, the conversation would have taken a different course. Impossible to prove, I admit, and I appreciate you may not agree with my comments, but I would ask you to please give them consideration.
Becoming less-abled has been a revelation to me, and I see the world from a new vantage point. I have observed both myself and other similarly challenged folk treated in the most curious ways. For example, it is absolutely true that a person will sometimes raise their voice considerably (and even lean in to make extra, extra eye contact!) for people in chairs; I have experienced this curious phenomenon many times, very occasionally even with a health care professional. I sometimes sense a probably unconscious assumption that a disabled person is disabled in a global sense, including mobility, hearing, intelligence, independence and who knows what else. I feel I understand this mechanism to some degree, but I believe it is helpful if it can be carefully considered, particularly by healthcare providers.
Thank you for reading my letter, I wish to add that I am very pleased to be a client of your practice.
Yours faithfully, etc etc.
To their great credit, the practice took my letter seriously and conveyed in a well written reply the steps they were taking to address my concerns. But I can’t help thinking of the many people who do not have the ability, or perhaps the courage, to put pen to paper and assert their right to courtesy. Though I feel the bus-cohort may be ever so slightly exaggerating their complaints, with their endless affront, and their studied victimhood, and their appalling entitlement; I do think there are people who routinely get short shrift, who endure mild and even malevolent disapproval in their ordinary encounters with the public. Most of these will be people who do not fit. They will be disabled or disfigured, perhaps with a wheelchair, but just as likely an indigenous person or a refugee. It might be young person who doesn’t uphold ‘normal’ standards of presentation. An old person unable to deal with new fangled speed and complexity. It will be someone who falls short in the power dynamic of everyday interaction, the language of dominion.
This is common cruelty, and we should champion each other when we meet it.
So next time you see someone on wheels overlooked in a queue for service – exactly why this happens is still a mystery to me – stand up for them!