Friday, 24 July 2015

Overheard on the Bus

The other day I was riding the bus home from work, and two physically challenged young boys got on the bus accompanied by a woman. They were all three chatting in the seats in front of me, so I couldn't help overhearing their conversation.

One of the boys was recounting how people tend to speak down to him, as if he's a little boy, when he's seated in a wheelchair, and pointed out in his deepening voice, "I'm fifteen." But sometimes people act as if he isn't old enough to speak for himself or capable of making decisions just because of his physical condition. Once he was pulled aside by security at the airport and questioned about whether his parents, with whom he was travelling, treated him well, and whether he was travelling with them by choice. "I was, like, we're going on vacation!" While I understand security's motives and applaud their being proactive, I could also understand this young man's desire to be treated like anyone else.

Then the other boy told of a time when he was seated on a stage, listening to various speeches. A blind woman came on stage and sat down on his lap, thinking she was sitting on a chair. And the sweet kid didn't move or say anything because he thought it would be too awkward and would embarrass her. And no one else on stage or in the audience noticed she was sitting on him. Of course the longer he didn't say anything, the more awkward it would have been to speak up. So he sat for half an hour with this woman on his lap, through an entire speech, and then she finally got up and left, completely oblivious to what had happened. As he told the story, he was laughing so hard his eyes were watering, and so were his companions'.

We are all aware of the challenges those with physical difficulties face when it comes to staircases and too-high kiosk windows. I've had people ask me for help reaching items on top shelves in grocery stores, and I've driven a blind friend to church. But I somehow hadn't stopped to think about the other challenges they face -- the unseen ones, the verbal ones, the attitudinal ones. Being thought to be somehow lesser or incomplete or incapable. Being mistaken for furniture.

I can't help but wonder if that blind woman, at some point during the speech, realized she was sitting on his lap instead of a chair. Maybe she didn't know what to do, thought how awkward and embarrassing it would be to say or do anything, and so did nothing. Her mistake can be forgiven, of course, and he found it hilarious himself. But I'm more appalled by the people around him who didn't notice his dilemma.

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