A notice has appeared on the door of the disabled access loo at our local branch of Waitrose, reminding people that some disabilities are invisible.
This strikes a real chord with me, as we know a chap who’s been afflicted with juvenile arthritis and who’s suffered a bit of stick when he—totally legally—parks in a disabled bay, displaying his blue badge, and then emerges from his vehicle. “What? He’s young and walking, so what the hell is he doing there? Whose badge has he nicked?”
The same attitude can apply in the case of other problems that don’t leave a huge physical sign. How can a bystander know if the girl wearing trousers is really a double amputee, or the man wearing gloves has an artificial hand? Even though different body forms are becoming less of a thing to hide in the media—great to see guys like JJ Chalmers presenting some of the Commonwealth Games coverage—there’s a tendency to think that if someone ain’t in a chair, or hasn’t an empty sleeve or another obvious issue, they ain’t got a problem.
And, of course, this particularly applies to conditions like autism. Too often youngsters on the spectrum get labelled as ‘just naughty’ or adults are called ‘weirdos’. Much of this is due to ignorance on the part of the person doing the labelling, although some people have a natural tendency to slag everyone off so name calling gets applied any time they don’t like something! Sometimes it’s a case of just not thinking: folk who’d naturally ensure that a person in a chair got helped with accessing where they were going might not even consider that another person could have a need for extra consideration because their issue isn’t evident.
We were on a cruise earlier this year, and one of the people we came across was clearly on the spectrum, given his body language and manner of speaking. I wonder how many of my fellow passengers would have given him the same dispensation they gave the woman wearing the big ‘Partially sighted’ badge or the lady with the large hearing aid. Or would they just have decided to give the ‘slightly odd bloke’ a wide berth?
Would it help if everyone who needed some extra consideration bore a label saying what they needed help with or would that make things worse? I wish I knew the answer.
I’m offering anything from my back catalogue as a prize to one winner, to be drawn from comments on this post. And here’s a snippet from Lessons in Chasing the Wild Goose, featuring Orlando Coppersmith, who four people – all of whom should know – have told me is on the spectrum.
Autumn in England is lovely enough, a palette of red and orange hues painting the trees and bushes, but autumn in Cambridge is perfection. Especially in the last few weeks of freedom before the dunderheads appear. And autumn in the Fellows’ Garden of St. Bride’s college seemed to have reached perfection this year, with a profusion of ornamental shrubs and small flowers—which Orlando Coppersmith couldn’t quite put a name to—twinkling beneath the trees. What he could put a name to was the colour of the sky, although no artist would recognise the term “Jonty Stewart’s eyes blue”. Yet that was exactly the shade the heavens had adorned themselves in.
The colour of the sky had prompted his visit to the garden, en route home from taking part in some “frightfully important and totally incomprehensible mathematical stuff” as Jonty would have termed it. Why not spend a few minutes in a place which had played a significant role in his burgeoning relationship with Jonty, sixteen years previously? The fact that he could sit on a bench and rest his aching legs for a while wasn’t lost on him, either. Why on earth had he agreed to take part in a late season cricket match, especially one against a team of such notable batsmen? Even Jonty’s wily spin had been to little avail, although he’d not had to go haring after the ball to all corners of the field, having inveigled himself into a place in the slips where running would be at a minimum.
Still, Orlando wasn’t going to complain: that would be conduct unbecoming of a Professor of Applied Mathematics and, worse than that, Jonty would rib him for it. Jonty, whom Orlando realised with a jolt, was not fifty yards down the path and might well be heading in his direction. He quickly produced a set of papers from his briefcase and contrived an air of intense concentration.
“I wondered if I’d find you here.” Jonty’s voice sounded through the railings of the gate he was poised to open.
Orlando looked up, as though completely surprised. “Oh, hello. I was trying to find a moment’s peace.” He waved the papers.
“Sorry. Didn’t realise you were hard at work with your sums. I thought you might be sunbathing. Or resting your legs after the cricket.” Jonty, having closed the gate carefully behind him, plonked his backside two feet along the bench.
“Why exactly did you think I might be here?” Orlando asked, neatly sidestepping the aching legs issue.
“You were seen by Swann, that rather nice new porter. Limping along—you, not him, and his words, not mine—in this general direction. I deduced,” Jonty grinned at the word, “that you’d not make it all the way home so would likely seek a few minutes of repose. And what nicer place could a man find to repose in than this?”
“That last point is indisputable,” Orlando conceded. “Although I’ll take issue with ‘limping’. I merely had a stone in my shoe at the time and had to find a suitable place in which to remove it. I have killed two birds with the proverbial stone.” He brandished the papers again, having realised he’d contradicted his earlier statement.