January 2, 2018
Do You Feel Invisible Because of a Disability?
The lead sentence in the New York Times article caught my eye: "Nancy Root remembers when she vanished." Reporter Frank Bruni writes about the "disappearance" of an 82 year old woman who lives in a Phoenix suburb. Even though her mental and verbal skills are just fine, because she is confined to a wheelchair most of the time she has become "invisible" to many people.
Getting someone to help her takes much longer than it did when she simply strolled into a store. When a clerk finally comes, offers of help are directed to the person pushing her wheelchair, not to Nancy. In doctors' offices, receptionists talk to whomever brought her to her appointment, often referring to Nancy in the third person, as if she isn't even there. The same invisibility happens at movie theaters, restaurants, and on airplanes.
The reporter found a disturbing pattern: there is often an assumption that someone with a physical limitation is also mentally limited, too. There is a general belief that someone above a certain age does not deserve full attention. The story ends with the disturbing conclusion that Nancy is learning to make peace with such neglect. She has decided not to spend her time angry or bitter at this type of treatment.
I must say that this story has opened my eyes to something that has probably been right in front of me. I just didn't see it. I don't think I treat someone in a wheel chair as detailed in the report. In fact, how I do respond may be just as bad. I may go overboard and be too deferential and treat him or her as if they are fragile or needing special help.
The folks I know who have a wheelchair or use a cane expect the opposite. They want no special privileges or treatment. They don't want their physical limitations to affect how I interact with them. After all, we all have limits of some kind.
As our country ages, more of our peers will find themselves needing help getting around. Wheelchairs, electric scooters, canes, or walkers will become an even more common sight. That group of folks with "limitations" will likely include us. Do we want to be treated, or ignored, like Nancy is? Of course not.
Here's my question for you: because of any physical limitations that require assistance do you ever feel invisible? Do you find yourself marginalized because you are a certain age? Do sales clerks wait on you last? Do waiters talk with a younger companion instead of you?
Or, have you found this isn't the case? You are older than many people in a store or supermarket, movie theater or restaurant, but that has not affected how you are treated. Do you do or say anything differently to make sure you get the attention you deserve?
The newspaper article quotes one of Nancy's friends, who is infirm and does feel discriminated against. She takes a more direct approach: she tells those people "to go to hell."
Hopefully, we can find another way to interact. But, Mr. Bruni has shone a light on a subject that is an important one: are senior citizens, especially those who are limited in some way, invisible to others?
Your experiences and reactions are welcomed.