Rewind to December 2009. Like most of North America, Clara and I decided to go to a local movie theatre and check out that little art-house picture, Avatar. After the movie, as we were about to brave the cold Canadian winter, I realized I had forgotten my gloves and scarf in the theatre. Being the wonderful girlfriend that she is, Clara headed upstairs to the box office to gather my things. As she returned with my acutrama, a distraught older man and his wife approached, very concerned that I had left my things behind. Apparently they noticed I had left my things on their way out and the gentleman seemed very concerned about my ability to survive without them. After assuring him that we had the glove and scarf and everything would be fine, he then proceeded to point at Clara and in a half-joking manner started saying it was her responsibility to remember these things, seeing as though she was my “aid” and all. I can’t begin to explain how angry this made me, as insignificant as it might seem. If a guy in a wheelchair is out with a girl, must she be his aid? Is it so unbelievable that I would have a girlfriend? There were a million angry things I wanted to say to the man, but in the ended I didn’t say anything (which, hindsight made me even angrier afterwards) because I knew I wasn’t justified to be as upset as I was about the whole thing and there was no value in yelling and screaming. Perhaps what really got my goat was that this wasn’t the first time someone has assumed Clara was my aid…and probably won’t be the last. Having said that, this particular “blame” experience was a bit unique: normally, people who presume Clara is my aid attempt to use her as a means of communicating to me.
This is an experience anyone with an attendant or translator can probably relate to–people often assume that because I have a personal support worker, I must not be able to speak for myself. The problem of dealing with people with disabilities and their aids is dealt with in a recent blog posted by Choose Ability Accomodation’s Blog, where someone who works within the disabled industry even had a tough time comprehending the dynamic of individual with disability and support worker communication. As you can see, even those “in the know” don’t always know how to navigate these situations.
Without overly simplifying or banging the logic drum a bit too hard, the obvious solution to these situations is to always, always, always speak to the person and not to the support worker/translator. It may not seem like a big deal, but I can say from first-hand experience there is nothing more humiliating then having a waiter ask your support worker what you want to eat.