So many peo­ple freeze up when I ap­proach them

Dis­abled peo­ple are ac­tu­ally peo­ple and lead our lives, just like you, so please stop treat­ing us dif­fer­ently

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Lifestyle - Bob­bie Hickey

Hello friends and Merry Christ­mas! My name is Bob­bie Hickey and I am 19 years old, born and raised in Dublin, but go be­tween my fam­ily home, my col­lege home and my horsey home in Wick­low. De­spite be­ing quite im­pres­sively vis­ually im­paired with the as­tound­ing fig­ure of 5 per cent sight, I have man­aged to do ev­ery­thing I’ve wanted to and more.

It’s funny; so many peo­ple for­get that dis­abled peo­ple are ac­tu­ally peo­ple, and that we lead our own lives just like you. Peo­ple have this idea in their heads of what dis­abled peo­ple should do and look like and I sup­pose it must shock you to see us not fit­ting into that stereo­type.

For ex­am­ple, it must be quite alarm­ing to see a lady with a cane speed-walk­ing down the road with ear­phones in and walk­ing a dog in the snow – yes that was me!

So if we are all nor­mal and lead­ing our own lives, why are we treated so dif­fer­ently? I don’t know, it baf­fles me. How­ever, fear not, I shall give you a crash course in how to treat ‘dis­abled peo­ple’.

It’s sim­ple: be nice – speak to us like we are nor­mal peo­ple. Ev­ery­one should be nice to each other re­gard­less of be­ing dis­abled or not – it is ba­sic hu­man de­cency – but I know from ex­pe­ri­ence that so many peo­ple freeze up when I ap­proach them to have a chat or ask a ques­tion.

I have been walk­ing into school be­fore and had par­ents stop with their kids and turn them away from me and hus­tle them on quickly, as if they had just seen a ghost.

I have had peo­ple on the bus tap me on the shoul­der to ask if they can sit be­side me and when they see my eyes, they say ‘oh sorry’ and walk away – why are you sorry? You’re the one with no seat!

Then there’s the clas­sic – I go to ask a per­fectly nor­mal ques­tion and I get a high-pitched, slow, sim­ple-lan­guage re­ply, sim­i­lar to one you’d give a three-year-old. I am ask­ing, plead­ing, beg­ging you all to please stop. I un­der­stand it isn’t some­thing you see ev­ery day and that most of you are do­ing it out of kind­ness, and for that I am grate­ful, but as a fully in­de­pen­dent young lady, who just hap­pens to have a dis­abil­ity, please speak to us all as peo­ple.

Not afraid In col­lege, I get my cof­fee from the same place ev­ery day; I am served by the same peo­ple who now know my or­der. Yes­ter­day, I got into a con­ver­sa­tion with one of them, all be­cause they asked me if I had been to the gym. That con­ver­sa­tion made me re­spect that barista so much more for not be­ing afraid to speak to me.

An­other ex­am­ple was at the bus stop as a group of us waited for the – not sur­pris­ingly late – bus down to Wick­low. A lady came over to me and started a con­ver­sa­tion about some­thing to­tally ran­dom. The same lady also helped me with my case on and off the bus, show­ing that, with­out mak­ing a big deal about it, she knew that I would have dif­fi­culty. Rather than for­get­ting I am an adult, she just con­tin­ued the con­ver­sa­tion as she car­ried my case on the bus, like a friend would do.

Hav­ing said all that, I am not ex­pect­ing ev­ery­one to go out and have a chat with ev­ery stranger they see – that would be weird. I am sim­ply high­light­ing the need to drop the fear­ful and awk­ward tones, to get rid of the un­easy body lan­guage and to re­mem­ber, we are just like you! This is not to say our dis­abil­ity is a for­bid­den topic – for me, it’s not, but that will be dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one and the only way you can find out if it is sen­si­tive is to ask – the trick is to get the right bal­ance be­tween dis­abil­ity talk and reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tion.

Ire­land has come so far in the last few years, as seen in re­cent ref­er­en­dums. Let’s not stop there, let’s get even bet­ter than we al­ready are and learn to for­get about ev­ery­one’s dif­fer­ences.

At the end of the day, we’re all Ir­ish and can all an­swer to a uni­ver­sal “how’s things?”

Bob­bie Hickey: It’s sim­ple: be nice – speak to us like we are nor­mal peo­ple

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