It is not very often that a conversation I have with one of the readers of this blog matches so well with a book I am reading at the time. In this case the coincidence was so great I just had to share my thoughts about them both.
On Thursday evening I was talking to a very nice lady called Michelle Headley, who works as a Receptionist at LCiL (I am sure she is going to tell me that is not her real job title but she is usually found behind the Reception window) when she related a story to me about something which happened to her.
I didn't realise when I first met her but Michelle has hearing problems (she wears a hearing aid in one ear). She acts like someone with normal hearing - and I am not being patronising when I say that - I am giving you a bit of background to Michelle's story.
Apparently the acoustics in one of the rooms at LCiL are not ideal if you have a hearing problem like Michelle's. She was in this particular room when a lady tried to speak to her. Michelle could not hear what she was saying so the other lady accused Michelle of ignoring her.
Now - one of the reasons I like Michelle is because she is so laid back - usually. In this case though, Michelle went off like a rocket and informed the other lady in no uncertain terms that Michelle has a hearing problem. Apparently the other lady's attitude immediately changed (I wonder why???).
I have had a similar experience myself with - ironically - a Chugger from "Guide Dogs for The Blind".
This idiot decided to begin with his spiel about how blind people have problems with every day life. His attitude and tone of voice just wound me up (he gave the impression he was just in it for the money he could earn instead of the money he could raise for the charity - you have no idea how much I hate that sort of Charity Fundraiser).
Now, I must admit that I have one advantage over Michelle (and she won't mind me saying this). Unlike a hearing aid - which is of no use to a hearing person - a pai of glasses with my prescription comes in very useful when I want to shut someone up about sight problems (especially when I get the impression they have no clue what they are talking about). All I have to do is hand the annoying idiot my glasses and tell them to try them on - their attitude usually changes no end afterwards (and they usually get the added bonus of a headache as a result) - I am not nasty really.
What Michelle didn't realise is that in my fourth and fifth year of secondary school I was in the same tutor group as a boy who was profoundly deaf. This meant that all his teachers had to wear a box which looked like an egg slicer around their necks so he could hear what was going on. Michelle informed me this is some kind of Transmitter so the hearing aid (or aids) worn by the human with hearing problems can hear what is being said.
As Michelle pointed out - and I totally agree with her - disabled people should not have to announce their disability prior to each and every interaction we have with someone.
Can you imagine it if we did have to make the same announcement every five minutes??? "Ding Dong - Your Attention Please - Michelle Has A Hearing Problem - Ding Dong!", "Warning - Partially Sighted Person Approaching! Warning - Partially Sighted Person Approaching!"
And the above would only happen if Michelle was in one place when I entered her orbit. Just imagine if every disability and Mental Health issue had the same audible warning system??? You would never get any peace!!! (Especially if somebody had more than one at a time.)
I have written before about the fact I wish attitudes to disability and Mental Health issues would change so the barriers would be broken down.
Last week I read a book on the history of Autism right through to the present day. Some parts of the book were quite horrifying - like the part about parents of Autistic (at that time diagnosed as Mentally Subnormal to the point of being useless to society) children being asked if they wanted to be told before the institutions the children were in killed the children or not. Would you believe that some of the parents said "kill them and tell us afterwards"???
The biggest shift in public attitudes towards Autism came at the time the film "Rain Man" came out. That film was based on people with Autism. It has now got to the stage where people on the Autistic Spectrum and their carers have a voice. And they are asking for the same opportunities as everybody else regarding education, etc.
We should not have to ask for things like the same chance (OK - maybe with a few adjustments in some cases) as everybody else. We can (and usually do) make our own changes to our surroundings to suit our needs better, All we ask for is a little openmindedness from you.
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