I am amazed that many people just don’t understand that other people have feelings and are capable of being a positive contributor to society even though they may be disabled. I see all the strides that humans have made through educational awareness and feel it first-hand as I find my own way in this world without sight and sound. Then something happens to me or others that I know, something so wrong and so barbaric that you think time must have sucked you back to the Dark Ages. How can this be?
Recently, one of those stories popped up again. It didn’t happen to me, but it could have. I have attended a camp, DeafBlind Access of the South, in Warm Springs, GA (town where President Roosevelt spent time dealing with the after effects of polio). I didn’t attend this year’s camp, but the year I attended I got sick with asthma and had to leave camp to go to the emergency room there in Warm Springs. They refused to provide an interpreter for me. Fortunately, a hearing SSP, my friend who went to help me with my health needs, and a Deaf SSP who could read lips well were with me. The staff of the hospital refused to talk to the Deaf friend with me. They would only speak to my hearing friend who had to then turn and repeat everything to the Deaf friend who would do tactile sign to me. The staff treated me, but they did so coldly and indifferently. My Deaf friend and I were humiliated. The story didn’t stop when we left there, either. Their billing staff was incompetent and kept sending bills and harassing letters for payment. I would try to call them with Relay to straighten things out. They refused to talk to me via Relay and insisted that I get someone hearing and sighted to call them. It took three years, but I finally got it settled and on my terms. Unfortunately, the attitude was a bit more pervasive than just the emergency room staff and billing staff that I met evidently.
This year at the camp in this town, Warm Springs, GA, brings news of poor treatment for the DeafBlind again. This time in a store there called Mountain Crafts. The week DBAS has camp in Warm Springs is also the week the town has an arts and crafts festival. Campers like to go into the town and enjoy the food and buy crafts at the vendors and stores. DeafBlind people shop like most people, but they can’t shop with their eyes. They shop with their hands. They touch things to see it. SSPs are with them to fill in other details like purpose, color, price, and whatever else is needed. With the owners, I guess the number of people all touching and grabbing their merchandise struck fear in their hearts. As the day wore on, group after group of DeafBlind customers were told they had to leave the store. Some of the DeafBlind and their SSPs tried to explain that they weren’t going to damage things and if they did they would gladly pay.
Many wished to purchase Christmas gifts and things for themselves from the store, but the owners were steadfast in their demand. The owners even called local police to remove the DeafBlind patrons. The DeafBlind, the owners repeated, were NOT allowed in their store. The DeafBlind expressed their sadness and even humiliation at response to this outright discrimination. They were shocked that they would be singled out as unworthy to enter the store to shop. Touching merchandise is not a sole tactic of the DeafBlind shopper. Sighted people pick up merchandise, too, before they buy. Sighted people have been known to drop things too and had to buy the broken item. The difference? The only difference is the fear the owners have because they assume that DeafBlind people aren’t capable of shopping independently. Not only is that sad, but it is totally false.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there, though. The DeafBlind went into another store and were still discussing their shock at the treatment of the other owners. This store’s owners overheard and were shocked as well. They were also afraid that the DeafBlind would assume that all Warm Springs residents and business owners were like this. These wonderful people assured the DeafBlind customers that they were very welcomed in this store and many others in the town. The customers assured the owners that they wouldn’t hold the opinion of two people as evidence of Warm Springs as a whole. Despite the rough start, the DeafBlind customers found gifts to buy and compassion. You can get the story straight from those who experienced it here in a video that is done in ASL and closed captioned.
It is sad that DeafBlind people who are just as capable as everyone else are often treated as lesser than. The uplifting part of this story is that not everyone is like the Mountain Crafts store owners or the ER personnel that I had to deal with. There are good people in Warm Springs (and everywhere) who treat the disabled with respect. Everyone can use an attitude adjustment from time to time about something. Fear can cause any of us to react in negative ways. I can understand and accept it as a mistake and worthy of compassion, too, when the mistake is seen for what it is. We just have to be willing to make that adjustment.