My Microphone

Date Night 3

I was pushing up the ramp at the front of the hotel when one of the valets noticed me and headed towards me. Seconds after he launched himself in my direction he was saying, “I’ll help you there sir.” I said “No” and the perpetual conversation started he didn’t mind, I did. Joe usually protects me from these incidents by walking behind me and blocking people’s access to the handles on the back of my chair but he had gone into the hotel to get change to tip the various people who you tip when at hotels.

I was nearly at the top of the ramp when the valet arrives, then, a voice. “He said, No!” I glanced over and saw that a man with an intellectual disability who was cleaning the front area of the hotel by using a long stick to pick up garbage and cigarette butts, his eyes were on the valet. His eyes meant business. The valet stopped. Then he nodded and apologized to me and left me to finish my way up the ramp.

When I turned to thank the fellow who spoke up for me, he had returned to his work and though he didn’t speak to me, he did give me a brief nod. He’d heard the thanks, but he was at work. Perhaps he’d been taught not to speak with the guests. And he hadn’t. He’d spoken to a fellow employee.

But he spoke to that employee with power. He knew what he wanted to say, and he said it. It was he who gave the instruction and he who was listened to. He’d seen the problem, recognized it for what it was, and added his voice to mine. He simply restated what I had said, he didn’t add in anything new. He was my microphone, not my voice.

As I came through the door I was met by a woman who explained to me that she was the job coach for the fellow outside. Then she apologized for his behaviour.

She apologized for him.

He didn’t do anything wrong.

What he did was exactly right.

But I got the sense that he’d overstepped his authority, that he was supposed to be silent and unseen, that he should let others handle things. Coaching someone into submission. Well, that turned into a lively discussion. She was surprised at my passion when speaking of what he did and why it was important to me, a guest at the hotel, that he did what he did. People with disabilities should not be trained to be cowed into complete submission and silence. Speaking up for self, for others, when needed is not only a skill but one that is entwined with courage and conviction. Things to be fostered not eliminated.

“You were going to speak to him about this weren’t you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then say ‘Thank you’ from me. Then leave it alone.”

And that’s what I hope she did.

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