Published: 2 April 2022
I'm sure I've blogged about assumptions before but it's something that I'm still thinking about quite a lot of the time. So much of what happens every day, at home, at work, out and about, is centred around assumptions.
I'm sure we're all guilty of it, myself included. However, I think the more we bring our assumptions to the surface, the more likely we are to challenge and change them.
So what are the assumptions I've seen recently?
None of my XXX have a disability
Fill in the XXX with whatever applies: family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc. I tend to meet this assumption when I ask about whether something is accessible. A social media post, a newsletter, anything really. So they don't bother to make these things accessible. Why would they?
I also encounter this assumption when out and about. My immediate neighbours know I exist and they are really considerate about not blocking the paths with bins and cars, but as soon as I go further afield, the obstacles increase. And with the obstacles, come the horrified looks. I feel a bit like the Lochness Monster - everybody's heard of me, but nobody really believes I exist.
A disabled person wouldn't want to XXX
Again, the XXX could be any number of things. A blind person wouldn't want to join a photography group. A deaf person wouldn't be interested in music. A wheelchair user wouldn't want to go hiking. Everybody thinks they know what other people do and don't like.
The reality is, there are blind artists, photographers, videographers. There are deaf singers, percussionists, composers. There are many people who, like me, love to go off into the forest, hiking and getting away from our concrete jungles. But it's hard because the assumptions made, often make these things inaccessible.
Disabled people live in a different time zone
So many time-related assumptions are made. The one that niggles me most, is that disabled people don't work or have appointments or other reasons to be in a hurry. So we can wait. If the pavement is blocked, we can just take a longer route or wait for the blockage to be removed. If the accessible parking space is taken, just for two minutes, we can wait or find somewhere else to park. We're probably very lonely and have lots of time to stop and chat.
Less irritating is the assumption that wheelchair users are going to move more slowly than walkers. So the walker goes ahead of us, rather than letting us through. Admittedly, I then make the (possibly incorrect) assumption that they can hear me. When I shout, "Excuse me please!" or tell Liggy she has to walk "really slowly" and my wheels are making a racket on the pavement... they either can't hear me or totally ignore me. Chances are, if and when they do let me past, I'm going to wheel off into the distance quite quickly. As Liggy's trainer and my aunty both point out, they have to jog to keep up with me.
My final observation on this, rarely affects me but I've spoken to so many people who it negatively impacts. It is related to the assumption that we don't work. Almost all services that disabled people might need to access are only available during normal working hours. So when I was working in adult learning, I was often told by disabled people that they couldn't work... not because they were physically incapable... but because it would mean losing all their important support and medical networks. Carers' groups, support groups, the Citizens' Advice Bureau... These things are rarely available in the evenings or at weekends.
Does it matter?
Of course it matters! Assumptions nearly always matter because they cause us to treat people in ways that are not appropriate or okay.
Child Q underwent a traumatic strip search because assumptions were made about her. That is not okay. Gay and trans people are abused by total strangers because assumptions are made about them. That is not okay. Women of childbearing age are overlooked for promotion because assumptions are made about them. That is not okay. I could go on for most of our protected characteristics... and more.
So my challenge to you is simple. Try to be more conscious of your assumptions about other people. Ask yourself whether they might be false. Act out of justice and equality, without assuming that it won't be necessary. I'm going to try to do the same. It isn't easy. It might not feel comfortable. Let's do it anyway.