I was buying some socks this week and I asked the shop assistant what size the socks were. She said, ‘Well, you can read it.” I explained that I could not read the light olive lettering on the brown packaging, especially in the dim light inside the shop. So she read them out to me. I have glaucoma and have experienced reduced vision recently. However, I am sure even people with good eye sight would have struggled to read the packaging.
The point is that we assume so many things about other people, especially their abilities and disabilities that we can appear to be almost rude and heartless. Once, when I was crossing the road a little slowly and carefully after I had my stroke, a car driver opened his window and shouted sarcastically, “Take your time, dear!” I know I am young and the driver wouldn’t have known that I had a stroke but why assume that every young person has good health? I employed a deaf assistant for over five years. She could not find a job for a long time because she was deaf but that is another story. She was a fine lip reader and we got along fine too. She used to tell me how often people would be angry at her for not listening! Or when cycling, other drivers would assume she could hear and do things like shouting at her to watch out as they jumped the light. Once, I was using the toilet for disabled in an airport, the cleaner told me disapprovingly, “You don’t look disabled to me.” I could have lectured her for half hour as to the reasons I needed to use the toilet for the disabled and thereby missed my flight, but I just smiled and left.
The key word here was, “you don’t look….”. Do we all need walking sticks or wheelchairs to announce we are differently abled? We all have disabilities. We are all different. All it takes is to recognise that we are all humans with different abilities and the world would be a much nicer place. Stephen Wiltshire is an amazing artist who can draw anything to the finest details even after seeing it for a few seconds. He has drawn the whole of London in detail after flying once over the city! He is also autistic.
Stephen was mute when young. At the age of three, he was diagnosed with autism. The same year, his father died in a motorbike accident. Now those would have been enough for anyone to become discouraged with life, especially a child. But he began to communicate through drawing. He also learned to speak at the age of five. At the age of eight, he started drawing imaginary cityscapes. When he was ten, Wiltshire drew a sequence of drawings of London landmarks, one for each letter, that he called a “London Alphabet”. Now at 39 years old, he has a permanent gallery in London and received many awards including a MBE. Stephen can draw beautifully. I am not good at detailed drawing. I have different qualities- some better than his and some worse. This is what makes me what I am.
Today, let us all be proud of who we are and celebrate our differences!