20 January 2009

No Shirt, No Speech, No Service?

Well...I was wearing a shirt. It was pretty chilly that night after all.

In the recent times at the cafeteria, I have had difficulty with telling what's what on the menu. Given that I am vegan with a probable dairy allergy or intolerance, this can delay me a bit.
So we, as part of the student disability organization, put in a request for individual labelling of all the items.
Which has not come to pass. So I will put in another request of this.

But in the meantime, what was supposed to happen if I was confused about
what an item was, is I was supposed to get help from someone there.
Since I often can't talk in there, I go near to somebody and point to
the location, and use body language and such. Which usually takes a long
time because I have a hard time identifying somebody who works there,
but once I see them then they see me and help me and no problem.

However, today right from the start I was in front of somebody working
there (who was the cashier working, so busy I understand, but still
there were several times when there was a lull of people coming in and
she went to do other things such as going to the coffee and wiping
tables, walking past me, giving me a look and then passing me by).

I start to think, after 10 minutes or so, that in the off chance she
hasn't seen me standing there, and after 20 minutes try to exaggerate my
expressions and flapping and rocking more. Now by this time I didn't
even care about the dessert anymore, but I just didn't want this whole
"ignoring me to go right past me and do tables and stuff"
to go on.

After about 40 minutes when she does acknowledge me (after having walked
past me, cleaned the dessert table I was standing right next to), she
said, "Okay, what do you want?" Indicating, aside from the eye contact,
that she had indeed seen me trying to get her attention.
I pointed to the dessert I was interested in and to the sign that read
"vegan" to the side of it and postured myself questioningly, as I wasn't
sure that it was referring to that dessert or not (there was no board
listing the desserts tonight).

She said, "Yes, you can have a dessert if you want."

And walked off. Then she said to another adult there, "She's always
acting like this."

Then later on she kept going to clean tables and glancing at a newspaper
as I kept trying to get her attention, using the body language of the
sentence of "But that doesn't really answer my question" and continuing
to flap my hands and look and point at the dessert table and the "vegan"
sign, as well as to look in her direction.

When she finally did come back, she said, "What do you want?" and picked
up a dessert. I pointed at the dessert, then pointed at the "vegan"
sign, and then she said, "Yes, it's vegan. Do you want it or not?" and
held it in front of me. I took one from the table top. She then said,
"You have to talk louder so I can hear." I then touched my throat and
moved my hands around so that she may understand that I was unable to
speak, not speaking softly. She then said, "There's nothing wrong with
your throat." Which A) she didn't know even that because I didn't talk
in the greenery today and B) obviously she doesn't know about interacting with autistic people.

I'm not sure what to do except for there to be better understanding
among school staff (including dining venues) about how interacting with
someone who's partially non-verbal doesn't mean you have to freak out or
think that they're non-communicative, particularly when clearly communicating
about something this simple. I hate this myth that NV = not
communicating, and even though I'm mostly verbal I run into it a lot.
It's not that you don't notice that the person who is rocking and waving
and pointing at the table and looking back at you needs help - it's that
you think their method of communicating their need is lesser, and
therefore not in need of attention. That's exactly the kind of attitude
I'm constantly up against, and the kind we need to educate out of
existence, so that we prevent consequences that are far more serious
than waiting an hour for a meal or a dessert.

Note: In another correspondence about this matter, there appeared to be a bit of misperception about where my complaint lies. I wrote the following to clarify:

This kind of dismissal of nonverbal communication and derision of the individual who communicates atypically, has led in the past and if not address will continue to lead to, far more serious repercussions to the individuals experiencing these attitudes (some of them from a non-school setting such as institutional abuses, whereas many, many others may also occur in a school setting). It is like a parallel to a woman who is forever considered a "little girl" and not considered capable of (or deserves protection from) making decisions for themselves.