Fat Sister, Poppy and I went shopping in Peckham yesterday. We went into Primark and split up a bit as we looked around. When Fat Sister and I had paid for our stuff we went to the front of the shop where it wasn’t as busy to wait for Poppy.
While we were waiting a security guard behind me started gesturing to Fat Sister to move me. He didn’t say anything but just used hand gestures to indicate that she should shift me sideways. I wasn’t aware of this until Fat Sister responded in an indignant tone.
Security Guard: Why Not?
FS: We’re just waiting for our friend and we’re not in the way. If you want Touretteshero to move, ask her.
(I turn round to join the conversation just as Poppy arrives)
Security Guard: (To Fat Sister) People are rude in this area and they might knock into her.
TH: There’s plenty of space, but if you want me to move please speak to me.
Security Guard: (Still to Fat Sister) But you’re her family so it’s polite to ask you to move her.
TH: No it’s not, and you’re still not speaking to me!
Security Guard: (Turning to Poppy) It’s just polite if I speak to you two.
TH: It’s polite if you speak to me. I wouldn’t go to your friends and ask them to move you about.
Security Guard: You had your back to me.
TH: Then move round until you’re facing me like you’d do with any other customer. Gesturing behind my back to my sister is rude.
Security Guard: OK I’m sorry, it’s just…
TH: It’s fine and we’re off now. But always speak directly to people in wheelchairs – otherwise you’re behaving like they don’t exist.
With that we left. Fat Sister laughed in disbelief as she re-enacted the guard’s gesture and facial expressions when he’d wanted her to shift me about. This experience is not particularly unusual and I’ve written before about some people’s apparent discomfort at speaking to me directly. This often seems to stem from a fear of causing offence, but assuming someone can’t understand or respond for themselves is surely always going to be much more likely to cause offence.