A Mall and the Night Visitor
After work yesterday Joe and I stopped at a big mallon Highway 9 to do some shopping and maybe get a bite to eat. Our practice is that Joe pushes me the long distances between stores that we want to shop in and when in the store, I push my self around. I like the independance but also the privacy. We'd had a good time an picked up a few items we need - I am three shirts richer - and a couple gifts for friends. I spotted a place to have tea and we pulled up to the table and pulled out our purchases. I've done that since I was a kid. I'm still excited by shopping and it seem miraculous that what once was theirs is now mine - awesome.
The tea arrived and we chatted as we watched people in the mall. I noticed a woman notice us in the food court and head over. By 'us' I don't mean Joe and I, she noticed all of us, the food court was quite full. She dropped off cards in front of all those eating or drinking and when the card flopped down in front of us I saw it was an "I Am Deaf Please Help Me Out" card that had the fingerspelling alphabet on the back of the card. I know rudimentary signs now, having once been relatively fluent and I love the chance to practice. Before she turned I taped her arm and she literally jumped out of her skin. I quickly signed 'Sorry' and she looked startled and turned away.
I waved my hand to catch her attention and started to sign to her, she flung her arm at me with disgust and went on her business. Back to where she originally dropped cards, she was now picking up cards with money. Few people gave but those that did were quite generous. As she approached, I wanted to know what I had done to upset her. So again, I signed the words that I remembered and fingerspelled the rest.
She leaned down to get the card and placed her face close to mine. "Listen, stop that sign right now. I'm not deaf. This is how I make money." There was malice in her voice. She frightened me. "But that's ..." I started and she knew where I was going so she made odd 'deaf sounds' with her mouth and pointed at us and fled. We both knew immediately what others were thinking, us mean men treating that woman badly.
We got out of there quickly.
I still don't know how to think about this.
It outrages me than a non-disabled woman is using disability to continue the stereotype of 'needy beggers'.
It outrages me that all the people in the mall will walk away of thinking that deafness equals unemployability.
It outrages me that when I need to do something, in the moment, that sometimes I'm truly paralized - my mouth and mind freeze.
It outrages me that, now, as a disabled guy, I actually felt the she physical force of her voice and tone and felt frightened of her ability to hurt me and my lack of ability to really protect myself.
It outrages me that I didn't know what to do next.
• Visit Chewing the Fat