Thursday, August 13, 2009

Just trying to get my tea...

Ok folks, it's video time.  Just to initially explain some stuff, the faces are blurred just to protect the privacy of the people who appear. Since acting strangely is not specific to one person, I didn't want to be like  "Ha ha! Look at this person being an idiot!" because we have all probably done stupid things we would hate to see on camera. I have also added annotations for the hearing impaired  and to tell you what I am thinking during these interactions. Don't worry, you'll be able to tell my internal dialogue from when the other people are talking

Soooo. I was just getting my green tea lemonade from Starbucks when I had an encounter with the barista. Some of the writing might appear small, so if you're having trouble reading it, click on the video and it will take you to youtube where you can full screen it. Watch:

Now let me explain. Many  MANY people think that I am a 10-year-old boy when they meet me. For the record, I am a 26-year-old female, but I am of small stature and I have a short hair cut. People almost always think my aides are my mom or dad besides the fact that some of them are actually younger than me.  Now our lovely barista asked me in a very condescending tone how I was then proceeded to tell me that I have a nice smile (for a boy). Now asking people how they are doing is great! But if you don't know the person your default tone should be how you would talk to an adult. Even if a person can't speak, looks like their 10, or seems cognitively disabled, its always best to go with the default tone.  You can also take cues from the people with them (if they have anyone with them). For example, if they are with someone who is having a normal conversation with them, then there you go. I know the barista had the best intentions, but let this be a lesson to all you able-bodied folks. Talk to adults as adults!


  1. Hi Eva,

    A friend just sent me a link to your blog. I'm looking forward to reading your posts. Including the video is great. Your posts will help my students and me better understand how to talk with our users. Thanks for posting.

  2. I am 57 and have been disabled for nearly half a century. I guess I have come to take most of this stuff for granted, because the sheer number of encounters you've already shared blew my mind.

    Reading your blog on my lunch hour today=Click! One of those radicalization moments. I bet I'll notice a lot more of this stuff around me going forward. And since I can talk (oh, boy, do I talk, maybe confront more of it as well.

    Once again, what a cool idea!

  3. Interesting blog.
    I love the 'your-eye' view in the videos.
    I have a question:
    If you look like a 10 year old boy, and there is no indication otherwise, then aren't people treating you as they would any other 10 year old boy?
    My disability is not always visibly apparent. I do feel a certain kinship with other disabled folks, and tend to say hello to people in wheelchairs, even if I don't know them. However, at least 50% of the time (probably more), I get a stony glare back, as if the people think I'm not treating them properly in some way. That being said, I get that from other strangers I have the audacity to greet sometimes as well. I get more glares from wheelers, though, so I find I'm changing my greeting habits.

  4. Or maybe you're simply misinterpreting her friendly greeting. It seems to me you're taking it out of context and seeing condescension there, when she's just doing her job and being nice.

    And if you're doing an androgynous thing, with the hair cut, then, yeah, you'll get mistaken as a boy. Girls that look like boys, often look like young ones because of the lack of facial hair. I doubt that it's due to the disability.

  5. I love how people who don't know you and don't have a clue what it's like to be disabled are flocking to this blog to "correct" you. There always has to be some excuse, no matter how unlikely or vanishingly remote, why the person in the video is A-OK and you are wrong. (That smarmy "simply you're misinterpreting her friendly greeting" comment Sarah made has got my blood pressure rising - the blogger is not a complete idiot, believe it or not, and knows the difference!)

    These are the people who officiously inform African-Americans that the racist comment they heard was "simply misinterpreted", because there might be a one in ten trillion chance that it wasn't racist so the racist gets the benefit of the doubt. Of course the person who was the actual victim of the racial slur doesn't get that same benefit, nor do you in comments like the above.

  6. I find this comment condescending. I mean, really: nobody over the age of nine would make the mistake you think it so likely the barista made, and the blogger is far more experienced with dealing with people like this than you could ever be.

    I have to wonder if you somehow feel personally threatened by the fact that disabled people want respect. (Please don't be one of those Something Awful/Fark people who say "aw, it's so sad" before suggesting the disabled person should have been strangled at birth because "it would be better for them" - which always means "so I don't have to acknowledge their existence as human beings".)

  7. Somehow I doubt that Sarah wants to strangle disabled infants.

    I can sort of see where you're coming from, but it doesn't really address what Sarah said. All I can get from it is that you think the barista is a person who intentionally insults people who are disabled. I personally wouldn't give the barista that much credit, I think she just made a mistake, which unfortunately doesn't make her "mister" any less rude, hurtful, or even just silly. You can't just assume something like that, no matter how long anyone's hair is.

  8. This is a really great project, thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I must mention: You really *do* have a gorgeous smile :) She got that part right, at least!

  9. Eva -

    Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to see the world through your eyes. I realized that I may have been guilty of doing exactly what this barista did and I want to thank you for pointing that out in a non-judgemental and understanding way.

  10. Condescending? Please.

    No, I think the blogger is being overly pessimistic, and that is what I was commenting on.

    Besides, feedback is what the blogger is looking for. And I'm offering more respect by stating my honest opinions, rather then feeling pity, and watering down my responses with 'oh how strong you must be for facing the world', and patting her on the head. Because, they're not necessarily being jerks to her. She's judging them, based on how she percieves herself, when maybe they're just being themselves.

    And I work in customer service, and I have older coworkers (like the barista), that use that sort of tone on anyone that looks younger then 30. You know, using that "I'm a mother tone".

    And you have to admit, the blogger looks young for her age. I would have only guessed her to be 18, or so, from the brief shot of her. Her being mistaken for a boy, has more to do with her style then disability. Which is still rude, but hey, it's a common mistake made towards anyone who pulls the androgynous look.

    And please, you take 'em down while they're still a fetus. /sarcasm

  11. Just found your blog via MetaFilter. (Congrats, you're famous! :-)

    This particular post of yours seems to have stirred up a lot of controversy, but I have to agree with you here. I don't think even 10-year-old boys should be treated in the condescending way most people treat 10-year-old boys. I sure didn't like it when I was one.

  12. Hi Eva,

    I just wanted to say, it's really great what you're doing. I realize that I've probably done the same thing in the past: while trying to be nice, I probably sounded condescending while talking to a person with disabilities. Often people notice the disability first, and then they think of the person 'behind' that disability. It must piss you off a great deal. So thanks for sharing your frustrations, they're real eye-openers.


  13. your blog is fascinating. a friend posted a link on twitter about how you're such an INSPIRATION, and i've been reading for an hour now. the videos amaze me. and i appreciate them also because while i have disabilities, they are invisible, so i definitely don't know what life is like from a wheelchair height.

    the gender mistakes you get KILL me. these are insane. i just HATE assumptions. there are plenty of trans people or others who just dont fit society's expectations, that we really shouldn't be using gendered words like "mister" unless we know for sure (we know the person's identity), or perhaps in some really freakin' obvious scenarios. in this case, if she'd just left the comment at "you have a great smile there," it would have been creepy, but sort of nice.

    the other thing i hate is when people treat people with disabilities like children. honestly, i talk to kids like adults. that babytalk crap is ridiculous and isn't even good for kids (unless they're babies, i suppose). i don't even treat 10 year old boys like some of these people treat you!

    i love that you take all this stuff with a smile and laugh. my disabilities are new (and admittedly mostly invisible), and i get huffy about being treated differently. in that respect, you're inspirational. ;)

    but not inspirational in the stephen hawking way. because that's just a freakin' weird correlation.

  14. correction: link about inspiration was teh snarky reference to this post:

    i really don't have creepy easily inspired friends, i promise. ;)

  15. Um, I hope this doesn't look like a dogpile comment, but I did want to mention that, at least to me, the mistaken-for-a-boy thing doesn't seem terribly egregious. As an average-height, average-chested, able-bodied young woman with short hair, I get mistaken for a teenage boy *a lot*. My girlfriend, who is not only short-haired but short and flatchested to boot is mistaken for a young boy all the time, and my younger brother, who wears his hair in a braid, for a prepubescent girl. Both of them get the accompanying condescension that comes from people who think they're talking to a kid. I've come to think it's just a culture-wide thing – most people see someone with short hair in pants and a teeshirt and their brain goes "Ten-year-old boy."

    All that aside, I find your blog very interesting! The points you bring up are really good, and I'm interested to see your posts.


  16. Hi! Found you on Feministe's blogroll.

    And one mid-20's female to another, I think you have an adorable laugh. :)

  17. I think the people who are saying things along the lines of 'but you look like a 10 yr old boy so its clearly just a harmless mistake' are forgetting that the barista's attitude is not just influenced by Eva's androgenous or young appearance, but by the fact that she is IN A WHEELCHAIR and has mannerisms usually associated with a disabled person.

    In my opinion the barista's approach indicates that she assumes Eva to be cognitively impaired as well as physically disabled (and I am not judging her for this mistake) and reacts in a condescending manner because, well, because that's how fully able people deal with disabled people.

    Again, and Eva made this point as well, it is not some terrible, deliberate thing (the barista's reaction) it is just an illustration of the mistakes fully able people make, and I very much appreciate her advice on how to remedy this: simply treat everyone as an adult by default.

  18. Eva, our teachers at teachers college have pointed out this blog as an interesting, insightful tool in helping to learn more from the perspective of disabled students. What an eye-opener.

    I have two comments, other than I'm enjoying experiencing it:

    1) People sum up other people in a quick glance. It's habitual. It's a fact. 2 seconds. That's it.

    2) I've been called "Sir" so many times in my 28 years it's not funny anymore, and I'm a tall, curvy gal with lonnnng hair! Those 2 seconds don't do anyone any justice. If they're wrong about me so many times, how often am I wrong about other people??

    I'm really interested to see where this blog will go, thank you for sharing your thoughts. :)

  19. Hi, ive been reading most of your posts and overall i am struck by your patience! And your sense of humour..

    I also find it very interesting to read your experience of the world. Ive done a lot of PA work and i always find it facinating to watch the world through the eyes of others..

    Keep it up, you are clearly building an invaluable education tool and a great record of peoples oddities..