I think we are all obsessed with efficiency, with doing work and completing tasks at record speed that we rarely take a moment to step back, and just observe how things are. In our haste to rush off somewhere, we rarely stop in our tracks when someone comes up to us and request for a minute of our time. Be it the flier ladies, the pesky sales-persons, or even the old auntie on a wheelchair selling tissue packets. More often than not, we plug in our headphones, walk with a sulky face, and pray to God that we're not disturbed on our way to the shopping mall.
I had a very humbling experience today. Before catching Silver Linings Playbook at JCube, I had gone off to KFC to get some tidbits to munch on during the movie. My earphones were plugged in, and I wasn't paying attention to the server. I rattled off my order without even glancing up to look at the lady, and assumed, like always, that my order would be quickly typed in, and the food sealed in a plastic bag. That was always the routine, so how could today be any different?
Today was different because the lady serving me was hearing impaired. I would have known should I have glanced up from my handphone, or plugged out from my earphones. I would have known if I had given the server an ounce of respect, and not be absorbed in my own world. I did none of those things, and I felt my heart sink. Not because the lady was hearing impaired, but because the lady was gracious enough to look me in the eyes, and with sign language, pointed to a badge pinned near chest stating that she was 'hearing impaired.' She was patient as she took my orders, asked all the routine questions like upsizing your drinks or switching to cheese fries, all without losing her cool.
I am not a smiley person, and I think a part of me wanted to atone for my mistake of not being conscious of her disability, and so I started to smile. I rarely smile so that was a big step. As I waited for my order, I thought about how brave it is for her to step out of her comfort zone, and especially to work in the service industry filled with fickle customers like me. And then I started to realise; the reason I smiled was not because I was served by an independent, hearing-impaired person. I smiled because I was given great service. There is no difference between her, and the colleague next to her. They were there because they have been employed, and they have been trained adequately to handle customers. That was the moment when I knew that I shouldn't treat the disabled differently.
Yes, there may be some challenges that they face, but they will try as their might to be as independent as they can. There may be certain times when interactions would have to be tweaked to accommodate and communicate with them, but in all other circumstances, they're just like you and me. In fact, they are braver souls than I could ever be, and this is all exemplified by this one lady serving me my snackers at KFC.