As a person with a learning disability I feel that there is an element of disability we don’t talk about enough. I feel there are several elephants in the room, and I’m going to talk about them.
Disability isn’t the elephant – it’s the attitudes in the room I want to discuss!
They’re there, but not discussed. It’s getting better with TV programmes like The Unbreakables, Undateables and Special Needs Hotel, but we’re not there yet.
My speech for example – sometimes people can’t understand me. I’m not always clear. There’s that awkwardness when people look like they don’t understand and are too afraid to ask me to repeat it. You wouldn’t think twice if I was a quiet person to repeat it. I won’t be offended, just talk to me.
Honesty is the best policy
When I had my hip replaced, I had a carer to wash me and make me breakfast – this does makes me sound like The Queen!
At first the carer spoke to my support worker about me, she didn’t talk to me at first and even looked panicked when my support worker left at the end of the day.
This made me feel strange, as she could talk to me right there and then – but I think it was down to lack of experience working with someone with less needs and I just needed to be clear about what I wanted. Respectfully, of course, as she was doing her job.
Being to the point can improve relationships – the carer knew what I wanted, therefore could act on it and ensure we worked together to support me.
I like honesty, don’t be afraid to talk to me or say ‘the wrong thing’ – sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and let yourself be embarrassed. I’m not scared to be embarrassed. If I can be direct so can you!
Equally, don’t be nice to me just because I have a disability! Get to know me as a person – my likes, dislikes my faults, even. Take the plunge! Talk to me – I can understand plain English!
I said talk to me, not talk for me
When people talk about me or for me whilst I’m there I feel insulted. I speak English, I don’t need a translator! I can understand what people are saying most of the time.
I remember this one time, my carer and I were leaving my flat and an official looking woman came out of next door’s flat and we approached her – we thought she looked lost. She said she was looking for my flat number, so I said “that is where I live”.
She looked at us both and then said she was collecting people’s responses to a council survey. She looked at my support worker and said “has she done it?” as if I wasn’t there.
I said “I’m here! And I have done the survey and posted it off in the supplied envelope”. She still continued to discuss it with my support worker.
I found it demeaning, to be honest, it’s much better if you just take ten minutes out of your day to listen, I’d much appreciate it.
Don’t fear disability – you aren’t going to get it by talking to us!
If you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself: why? Because we are different?
Disability should not be a taboo but part of everyone’s life; people get tongue-tied at difference, which is not helpful.
Talk to me like you would talk to anyone else, I don’t want my disability avoided, it’s part of me.
We might be able to laugh at it even. The right sort of laughs obviously!
After all, laughter is the right way to End the Awkward.