Don’t judge a book by its cover, they always say.
This mantra should be practiced even more when interacting with people with disabilities, or people whom one suspects has disabilities.
In addition to have Tourette’s syndrome, a brain injury, and a former speech impediment that revisits me from time to time, I also have some visual impairments. One of these impairments comes in the form of a “lazy eye” AKA Strabismus. I have had this since I was young; however, this condition worsened after my brain injury.
I have tried eye patching, glasses, vision therapy, and nothing has worked to correct this. I have even explored surgery as an option, but the white-coats-that-be have told me the risks outweigh the benefits.
This does not make me less-than-human. But it does mean that I cannot see eye-popping images when I watch 3D movies because I do not have stereo vision. Nope, no 3D glasses for this peep!
Sadly, I have encountered people who have not responded well to this facet of my appearance (You’d think they’d rather take exception at the baldness on my round mound of cranial ground).
A few years ago, I went to a car dealership to purchase a brand-new car. In fact, I was a couple of negotiation tactics away from putting pen-to-ink when the sales manager swooned in to seal the deal. He walked up beside me and began speaking to me. As I turned my head to him, his words continued to motor-out until he locked eyes with me and came to a cataclysmic shift and asked me “Which eye should I look at?” while he pointed his finger at my lazy eye.
I was floored. Unfortunately, I had similar experiences around that time with others (stories for another time), so I was pretty fed up with people making humiliating remarks about my eyes.
I grew angry, very angry (see my “Inner Hulk” blog post. I thought inside, “Here I am readying to buy a $45K car, and this is the treatment I am receiving?” I told him to get my car keys to my vehicle I was preparing to trade in, and that I was leaving. He began apologizing profusely, bamboozling me with excuse after excuse as to why he did and said what he did and said.
After a few moments, I saw this as a teachable moment. I decided to accept his apology and explained to him how his remarks must have made me feel, the scope and breadth of hurt those types of reactions yield, and how he needed to be more professional when it comes to working with people with disabilities.
He agreed wholeheartedly. He was truly humbled.
While I ended up not purchasing that vehicle, I walked away from that deal happy with the lesson and perspective I had shared with this man. I didn’t want to come off as a bitter guy with a disability who had a chip on his shoulder. Instead, I opted for the route of being an advocate and teacher, so that the next experience he has with a person with disabilities will, prayerfully, be a more positive one.
And that’s one of the reasons why I give motivational speeches—to educate people about persons with disabilities, to advocate for persons with disabilities for equitable treatment in every medium, and to motivate persons with disabilities to rewrite social biases and teach others not to “judge a book by its cover.”
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