This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.
Let me throw you a little hypothetical scenario. Taking from all the usual oddities that happen to me when I go out to eat, I’m going to walk (get it?) you through a fictional account of what eating out is like for me as a wheelchair user.
We’re headed to the door of a shiny new restaurant in town. I enter first, as the people I am with hold the door open for me. The host(ess) makes eye contact with me momentarily before looking past me to ask the (non-disabled) “adult” how many people are in our party. I answer, “Four,” trying to show that I am perfectly competent enough to answer his/her simple questions. My brother, also using a wheelchair, enters behind me.
We sit and wait in a highly cramped space as we try to make enough room for patrons to enter and exit. Finally, our party is called and we head back to a table. Naturally, the table is in the very back of the restaurant, requiring my brother and I to carefully navigate the dangerous waters of old people (who are getting up to leave), tiny screaming kids in booster seats, and a steady current of waiters and waitresses who are overloaded with heavy dishes.
Upon arriving to the table, we realize that two large power wheelchairs are not going to fit at this table without some serious rearrangements. The employees try to help, but eventually the folks we are with take over the operation and shift the table around until we are able to fit.
Our waiter comes to the table, takes our drink orders and gives us some menus. Actually, just two menus. Matt and I don’t get one because obviously, being disabled, we are unable to read and comprehend such a complex document. I think about sharing menus with someone in the name of being peaceful. “Could I get a menu,” I say instead before I have time to stop myself.
We eventually figure out what we all want to eat, and our waiter comes to take our orders. “What does he want?” the waiter says gesturing toward me. “I’ll take the number 23 please,” I say, once again trying to show that I am competent enough to order my food.
We enjoy a meal with friends and family. Our waiter is particularly nice and helpful. But then it comes time to pay. “Is this going to be on one or two tickets?” our waiter asks. Of course, the cripples are surely being paid for by the walking man. I mean, isn’t that why our taxes are so high?!1 ”We’re on separate tickets,” we tell our waiter.
It’s about respect
So I would be lying if I said that any of this keeps me up at night. But I think it’s a matter of principle. People with disabilities just want to be treated like everyone else. Hey, we enjoy getting sweet parking and all, but we don’t want too much special treatment. Carl Thompson of Working at Perfect had the following to say regarding preferential treatment.
In theory, this is a good thing. It definitely made it easy to get a good position at the venue. But if you think about it more, it is preferential treatment. I really don’t want preferential treatment, just as I don’t want to be treated in a traditionally negative discriminatory way.2
At the end of the day, people with disabilities want what everyone wants. Just a little mutual respect and admiration.