As a child, my mum and I shared a major bugbear. Whenever we were out, more often than not, people would direct questions at my mum rather than me. “Aww, what’s her name?” or “Would she like a drink?” would be put to mum, whilst they totally ignored my existence. But mum’s response was always the same: “She is Aideen, she has a brain: Ask her!” Mum was always adamant: I had Cerebral Palsy and a speech impediment but I should still speak for myself.
As an independent adult, it’s an experience that rarely occurs now because I speak up for myself. After all, speaking is what I do! My best friend and I decided to spend the Coronation weekend in Fuerteventura. We flew from Birmingham airport and having not flown in years, I was unaware that wheelchair assistance must be booked in advance, although that is no excuse for the attitude of the staff. On four separate occasions, the assistance staff approached my best friend to ask for my details and whether I was able to climb stairs.
Speaking for myself
On the outward journey, three members of staff approached Brian within minutes of each other to check if I was able to manage stairs. On each occasion, I told them to speak to me. I knew I’d got my point across as from then on, they all spoke to me directly. It seemed they were quite rightly embarrassed by their earlier mistake.
The homeward journey was the one that really got my blood boiling. Once again, the staff member instantly asked Brian for my name. Both of us told him to speak to me. I told him my name and he repeatedly asked Brian, complaining to him that he couldn’t understand me. This happened four times. A passenger who was close by then told him my name. She had been listening and I thanked her for validating my point. With careful listening, it wasn’t hard to understand. It was utterly frustrating as the staff member refused to even try to understand me. I was left wondering what he would have done if I’d have been travelling alone?
What makes this even more amazing is that these staff members are employed to assist disabled people. Yet they were totally inept when communicating with someone with Cerebral Palsy and a speech impediment. I accept that my speech can be challenging. However, when I can successfully deliver speeches with audiences of hundreds of people, I really can’t be that hard to understand. All I’m asking for is a little patience.
I promised the staff member that I would be lodging a complaint, perhaps I’ll offer a free training session along with it.