Obtuse on Purpose

Chloe enjoys some downtime in between classes.
Chloe enjoys some downtime in between classes.

Sometimes, someone just rubs me wrong. I try to practice what I preach here at Hearing Elmo. I know that my interactions with another person can influence their opinion about – for example, all people who have a service dog, or all people who have a balance disorder. Yet sometimes… someone just rubs me wrong and I respond inappropriately.

In the early days, if someone made a comment about my service dog, cochlear implant, or wobbly gait, I’d put my hands on my hip and “give them what for”. It was pointed out to me by friends and family that I needed to work on that. It was hard for me not to have a knee-jerk reaction to what I viewed as rudeness.

Today, I do better. Yet sometimes… someone rubs me wrong. I had a day like that this week.

I went to the copy center to copy an exam I was getting ready to give to eager Introduction to Psychology students. *snort*  The copiers are jamming up and not wanting to “do staples” right now, so I brought my exam to the front desk and asked for assistance. As I waited for it to be printed, another professor came into the copy center.

“Oh what a beautiful dog! I just think it is terrific what you do. But I don’t know how you give them up, honestly!”

I was obtuse on purpose.

“Oh, I’m keeping her. I’m not going to give her up“, I replied.

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“I’m sorry?” she asked, clearly confused.

“I’m not going to give her up. I’m keeping her”, I repeated.

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“But… but don’t you have to give them back?” she asked.

“She’s my service dog. We’ve been together almost 6 years now”, I replied with saccharin sweetness.

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“You mean a therapy dog?” she asked, still clearly confused.

“Oh no. She is an assistance dog. I really couldn’t do my job without her. She’s essential to my even being here”, I admitted.

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“But… WHY do you need her?”, she asked as she leaned closer to finally read all the details on Chloe’s vest. Her eyes got big and she murmured… “Oh…”

Then she looked at me. She actually took a step to the side to look me up and down. I was incredulous! I shouldn’t have been surprised when she said, “You don’t look deaf or talk like you’re deaf”.

With a huge, sweet smile I exclaimed, “Well thank you!” (refusing to even go there). I inwardly chanted my motto… “EDUCATE ONE PERSON AT AT TIME”.

She continued to wait in line and watch me. Finally, my copies were done and I allowed Chloe to do “paws up” to say hello to one of her friends behind the desk. He patted her once and said, “Now you take care of your mom, Chloe! Don’t let her fall today!” Chloe wagged her tail and turned to see me out the door.

I noticed this other professor’s eyes get even bigger as she stared at us while I gathered my things to prepare to leave. I’m talking, openly staring, not even pretending to be sly about it. As I turned to push open the door, I turned, looked her in the eye, and said, “You know? You don’t look like a hearing person!”

I was obtuse on purpose. And perhaps – a little mean. I’m pretty confident, however, that in this one instance – it may have helped open her eyes at her own behavior. One can hope, right?

Invisible illness and disability are invisible. Duh, right? The very nature of what these disorders, illnesses, and disabilities are mean that at first glance, you cannot see them. It may not be until someone bends, or walks, or speaks, or sits that you notice what is really going on with them. Please respect them enough to not ask impertinent questions.

Making a Difference

At a Giant grocery store several weeks ago, I came in the door right behind another lady. She sat in the nearest motorized shopping cart and proceeded to pull out carefully. To keep Chloe’s paws and my clumsy feet out of her way, I stepped to the side for a moment and smiled while waiting for her to go by me. A woman turned from the produce section with a bag of lemons in her hand (appropriate – believe me) and said to this lady, “Oh wow, you should leave those for handicapped people. That is why they are there!”

The lady sat there a minute stunned. I felt like leaning over and whispering, “Gun it dearie. You are aimed right at her!”. Instead I put a hand on her shoulder (which made her jump) and said, “Some people don’t realize that some disabilities are invisible. Ignore her”.

Her eyes filled with tears and she seemed disconcerted by both this woman’s comment and my own intervention. To not bring any more attention to the situation, I patted her shoulder one more time and walked towards the vegetables.

Whether you have an invisible condition yourself, or know someone who does, you can EDUCATE ONE PERSON AT A TIME. Perhaps being obtuse on purpose is not the best way. However, you CAN find a way to make a difference! Look for opportunities to do so!

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal