On weekends, I work part-time at a popular outdoor restaurant-bar in Washington, D.C. I’ve been there for a couple of seasons and am generally pretty good at the job, so the bosses trust me to take care of business that other waitresses might not feel comfortable doing. For example, last week, amidst a packed house with no available seating, the manager asked me to reserve my next available table for a man in a wheelchair and his two companions. Happy to oblige (because, they’re people too), I soon found out that all three guests were blind.
Once they were settled at their table, I made myself comfortable in a chair next to one of them, asked how their day was going, and talked about some of my favorite menu items. Overall, the whole experience was fun for both waitress and patrons—we joked, I gave them the same level of attention and service I gave all of my tables, and at the end of the meal, I escorted them to the front of the restaurant where a handicap-friendly taxi service was waiting for them.
On our walk out of the extremely crowded restaurant though, one onlooker scooted out of the way and said, “Bless you, all.” One of my new friends said, “Bless me? Oh come on. That’s like saying, ‘Congrats on being alive. Way to get out of the house.’ Why wouldn’t I get out of the house? Psh.” And I wholeheartedly agreed with her.
Being disabled or handicapped doesn’t make someone any less of a person. This moment made me think of a video I recently watched of actress and writer, Santina Muha, talking about what it’s like living life in a wheelchair. She said, “I don’t feel as different as sometimes people make me feel.” What a great comment.
I understand that for people like me, who aren’t in a wheelchair or blind, it may be difficult to relate or empathize. But that doesn’t mean you have to go out of your way to tell someone in a wheelchair that you’re inspired by them. As Muha explains, “If you’re inspired by me because I got dressed and left the house and I’m not at home crying over my disability, then you can save it.” If you’re inspired by their successful career, interesting list of hobbies or talents, or balance of work and personal life, then go ahead! Tell the person.
My new friends from the restaurant also added that they may do things a little differently, but they still do the same things as most people. And I’d like the world to remember that. Some people in a wheelchair may have overcome some serious obstacles or beaten odds against them (check out my dad as an example) but that’s not for everyone to assume or question, especially if the person is a stranger.
My point is that the world could be a little more sensitive and respectful—and sometimes that means not trying to be respectful with an awkward “Bless you” comment! So increase your or your friends’ awareness and share this post, watch Muha’s video, and remember that we’re all a little different. And that’s a good thing.
Photo Credit: Steve Johnson, Flickr Creative Commons