Does he take sugar?

Yesterday evening, while out for a meal with my friend Brian, I was reminded of the former programme on BBC radio 4 entitled “Does he take sugar?” The programme derived it’s title from the question posed to the non-disabled companion of a disabled person, as to whether the person with a disability wanted sugar in his tea. The obvious point being that the question should have been directed to the disabled person (not to their companion), as by addressing the non-disabled individual the man/woman posing the question was patronising the disabled person.

To return to my meal yesterday evening. As a blind guide dog owner I have been eating in this restaurant for approximately 18 years. The food is (almost invariably good) and the service (usually excellent). Yesterday evening our waiter was attentive and the food arrived promptly and tasted as a good Indian curry should taste. However the waiter proceeded to address Brian (who is fully sighted/non-disabled) and asked “Is the dahl his”, “is the chicken his”.

The above was most odd as I have (as I said above) been eating in this restaurant for some 18 years or so. I sometimes pop into the place alone and enjoy a quiet meal and on these occasions the waiter in question has interacted with me in a civil and friendly way. It is, therefore most bizarre that yesterday evening he chose to basically ignore me and interact with my non-disabled friend.

To ignore a disabled person and interact with their companion is deeply disrespectful. It is, in effect treating the person with a disability as a non-person (as though they where incapable of thinking and acting independently). In the vast majority of cases those with disabilities are more than capable of answering for themselves and treating them as non-persons is deeply demeaning. There are, of course exceptions to this. For example a minority of people with very severe learning disabilities are not capable of making decisions for themselves and do need others to act and speak on their behalf. However many other people with learning difficulties do live independently and are capable of speaking for themselves and the assumption should always be that an individual is able to represent him/herself unless their exists strong evidence to the contrary.

Some people fear what they have not encountered and this may help to explain why they disregard the person who is disabled and choose instead to interact with their non-disabled companion. More education is needed to drive home the point that those who are disabled are persons in their own right and are possessed of thoughts, hopes and desires in the same way as are their non-disabled peers. I will, I feel sure encounter other incidents of this nature. It is deeply depressing and all I can do is keep my temper and politely request that the person doing the patronising please address me and not my non-disabled friend.

Kevin

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