On my recent travels with my friend, I encountered many cases of disempowerment of a verbal nature both at home and abroad. Despite eight years of university, two first class honours in science and good communication skills because of my disability it was presumed that I couldn’t speak for myself. Everywhere I went people would directly communicate to my non-disabled companion with regards my body and the piece of equipment that enables my mobility. It was as if by automatic they assumed that all people with a disability are mentally challenged and incapable and thus therefore he must be my chaperone required to speak on my behalf.
I was often greeted with shock when I made it clear that he was my companion and not my presumed caregiver . Perhaps this feeds into the views that disability equates with permanent care giving responsibilities, or assumed burden. Airport staff, shop assistants, flight attendants, hotel staff to name but afew; Upon disembarking from the plane on to the lift a staff member asked my friend to “put her breaks on’. Heaven forbid someone in a wheelchair could do that themselves, after all it was and is only my chair and has been for almost four years now. Another verbal violation was when to my horror my companion was asked by flight attendants can “she walk up the steps or does she require assistance?’. Not to mention, when my chair and lithium battery had to be x-rayed at the airport prior to our return flight not one person directly spoke to me about the protocol as I was lifted out my wheelchair and forced to sit for thirty minutes on a stationary chair.
I believe it’s because people are generally uneducated about disabilities and they see people with disabilities as incapable. There are some disabilities that are associated with decreased mental ability, and I think there is a really important step in redefining the stereotypes around disability and providing education to ignorant attitudes.