We had just finished purchasing a new computer. It was a good experience shopping, the clerk recognized and spoke to me as the primary decision maker regarding the purchaser. Joe uses the computer but is not on friendly terms with it and uses it begrudgingly, I am not afraid of it and use it as much for work as for enjoyment, Joe had no interest in making decisions regarding what our next computer would be, even though I had encouraged him to go shopping and get a new one. We were driving south on Yonge, in heavy traffic when I noticed a Staples, I asked if it had a parking lot, which it did, I suggested we go shopping and let the traffic die down, Joe eagerly agreed, he didn’t want to go on his own. So we’re in the store, with a clerk talking to me about what we wanted.
The clerk also recognized us as a couple, rather than me as the shopper and Joe and my ‘staff.’ So we Joe and I were able to consult with each other, while the clerk waited to answer further questions and make other suggestions. In other words, the clerk held space for us, made room for us, to talk and to figure out between us what we wanted. The clerk, as I said before, had no difficulty with me leading the process and being the primary question asker. My wheelchair did not make it’s usual difference, you know it ‘disability diminishes voice.’
So, we picked out computer, then went over to purchase a new printer. Here Joe took over, he more often uses the printer and scanner in his work with booking my lectures and printing bills and scanning receipts. I pulled back and let him talk about what he needed and how he wanted the computer and the printer to interface, is that the right word, with each other. Again, the clerk made space for us to talk and for Joe to ask questions, he made the time available and was there to provide expertise and information. We felt no rush and that we were not in the way in any way. Joe picked the printer and we were good to go.
Ooops, now the big decision, what kind of protection package do we want to buy. Sometimes it seems that this is what the store really sells. We listened to the pitch. There were several options, one of which, of course, didn’t seem to be ‘not buying any.’ So now it was time for us to give him the space to talk about what he saw us needing and because of the style of computer we bought, which plan he thought was the most viable for us. That decision made, now we were good to go. The computer, the set up, the protection package and everything else were calculated and paid for. The clerk didn’t know that what we bought came in about 3 hundred less than what we’d hoped to pay for a computer alone. We hadn’t realized that when we drove in that everything we’d bought would be on sale. Anyways, we were done.
After having being treated so respectfully, after having a clerk make the time and space for us to feel that we could ask questions, get information and make decisions, I realized that I was feeling different than I when I came in. I had expected to feel dumb, as I usually do when talking about computers with clerks, I had expected to feel in the way as I usually do when in anywhere with aisles and where we would be in one place while discussing items on display, I had expected to feel that the time we needed was a burden on the staff who had other, more important things to do and more important customers to serve, I had expected to have to fight to be recognized as an important part of the process, disabled or not. I expected, in other words, to be diminished by the process. But the clerk we had didn’t do any of those things.
What’s amazing is that because he didn’t, because we were treated respectfully, me as a disabled shopper and us as a gay couple, each of us came out of the experience feeling empowered rather than disrespected. How people do what they do matters. It matters more than they will ever fully realize.
When we were done I turned to the nearest exit. It was blocked by a woman who had already had an angry interchange with a staff who simply couldn’t get her to understand that he was unable to do what she was asking. He had been polite and even kind in the face of her anger. She stood there as he went to get the manager. She was right in my way. She knew where needed to go, she stared me down. She was not going to move for the likes of me, in her anger she had to win at least one battle. If it was barring the exit for me that would be it.
I let her have her victory, I even found it funny, I went the long way round, and didn’t care. I was still in the glow of having been respected. A little bit of nasty wasn’t going to take the shine off that.
We all talk about the wonders of ‘random acts of kindness,’ I wonder if we could instead think about just practising ‘regular acts of respect.’ It’s amazing the effect that has on people. As a disabled man and as a gay man it doesn’t happen that both sides of that diversity coin are acknowledged and respected – wow, it’s a powerful thing, respect, a really powerful thing.