Monday, June 17, 2013

Dear Modern Manners Guy ...

Here is my letter to the Modern Manners Guy Podcast:

Dear Modern Manners Guy:

Could you please do a podcast episode on "Disability Etiquette?" Grammar Girl did a great episode of her podcast on appropriate language regarding people with disabilities, but what about manners and appropriate behavior? Is it okay to open doors for a wheelchair user? Can you pet a guide dog? Is it ever appropriate to ask a person about his or her specific disability?

I have worked in the disability rights field for over 20 years, and I have disabilities myself. So, I have my own ideas on questions of disability etiquette. There are also many guides out there. However, most of them, in my opinion, focus too much on specific rules and not enough on the principles behind them.

Modern Manners Guy, I'd love to get your take on this!

The Gang's Not All Here

The photo that broke a mother’s heart
Thandi Fletcher, The Province - June 14, 2013 (via Crazy Crip Girl)

I think "awareness" is over-rated as a word and as a concept. However, cases like this I think are very specifically about "awareness" … the lack thereof. Only the people there at the photo shoot know what actually happened, but I can easily imagine a depressing combination of harried, hurried teachers, antsy kids, and perhaps a subtly enforced lack of creativity and innovation … an adherence to "the way we do things" that stifled even the most basic ideas for including this cute kid properly in his class photo. Most of all, I suspect that it all hinged on the adults in charge never even thinking that maybe the kid would feel humiliated. He's in the photo, after all!

Also, there's this … the photo broke a mother's heart, but what about the kid's? Actually, my guess is that he's defending his teachers, wishes his Mom would just let it go, and is embarrassed by all the fuss. When he's 18 or so, he'll be angry in retrospect.

Again With The Theme Parks

Amusement Park Faces Backlash Over Disability Access
Shaun Heasley, "Disability Scoop" - June 17, 2013

This case is even more interesting than the Great Disney World Controversy. Here we have a theme park that seems to be trying to be helpful to visitors with disabilities in a more targeted, discreet, and fair way. Under their new policy, you have to wait like everyone else, but you can leave the line and go do other things until it's your time to enter the ride. In effect, it removes the physical aspect of the wait, leaving only a mental wait. It's a policy designed mainly for people with physical disabilities.

For people with certain cognitive or mental impairments, though, the problem isn't literally standing in line, it's the wait itself … the gap between the moment they decide to take the ride and the moment they're allowed to do so. There's a risk of stereotyping here, but it does sound right to note that people with autism, especially, might find it all but impossible to tolerate waiting, and incapable of making the mental adjustment necessary to say to themselves, "Well, at least I can go do something else until it's my turn." The parents complaining about the new procedure may have a point that the new accommodation simply doesn't match with that specific kind of disability.

But wait! Something called the "Autism Society" disagrees! They think the new policy is accommodating enough, and that having Autism shouldn't exempt people from waiting their turn. I don't know if they're right, or if they have the wrong idea about reasonable accommodation, but it's an interesting example of an important phenomenon … a disability organization with policies and philosophies that don't fully mesh with individuals with disabilities and, especially, their families.