‘Why do people freeze up when I approach them?’

Disabled people are actually people and we lead our lives just like you so please stop treating us differently

Bobbie Hickey: “I have been walking into school before and had parents stop with their kids and turn them away from me and hustle them on quickly, as if they had just seen a ghost.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Bobbie Hickey: “I have been walking into school before and had parents stop with their kids and turn them away from me and hustle them on quickly, as if they had just seen a ghost.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Hello friends and Merry Christmas! My name is Bobbie Hickey and I am 19 years old, born and raised in Dublin, but go between my family home, my college home and my horsey home in Wicklow. Despite being quite impressively visually impaired with the astounding figure of 5 per cent sight, I have managed to do everything I’ve wanted to and more.

A weekly column by writers with a disability.
A weekly column by writers with a disability.

It’s funny; so many people forget that disabled people are actually people, and that we lead our own lives just like you. People have this idea in their heads of what disabled people should do and look like and I suppose it must shock you to see us not fitting into that stereotype.

For example, it must be quite alarming to see a lady with a cane speed-walking down the road with earphones in and walking a dog in the snow – yes that was me!

So if we are all normal and leading our own lives, why are we treated so differently? I don’t know, it baffles me. However, fear not, I shall give you a crash course in how to treat ‘disabled people’.

It’s simple: be nice – speak to us like we are normal people. Everyone should be nice to each other regardless of being disabled or not – it is basic human decency – but I know from experience that so many people freeze up when I approach them to have a chat or ask a question.

I have been walking into school before and had parents stop with their kids and turn them away from me and hustle them on quickly, as if they had just seen a ghost.

I have had people on the bus tap me on the shoulder to ask if they can sit beside me and when they see my eyes, they say ‘oh sorry’ and walk away – why are you sorry? You’re the one with no seat!

The classic

Then there’s the classic – I go to ask a perfectly normal question and I get a high-pitched, slow, simple-language reply, similar to one you’d give a three-year-old. I am asking, pleading, begging you all to please stop. I understand it isn’t something you see every day and that most of you are doing it out of kindness, and for that I am grateful, but as a fully independent young lady, who just happens to have a disability, please speak to us all as people.

In college, I get my coffee from the same place every day; I am served by the same people who now know my order. Yesterday, I got into a conversation with one of them, all because they asked me if I had been to the gym. That conversation made me respect that barista so much more for not being afraid to speak to me.

Another example was at the bus stop as a group of us waited for the – not surprisingly late – bus down to Wicklow. A lady came over to me and started a conversation about something totally random. The same lady also helped me with my case on and off the bus, showing that, without making a big deal about it, she knew that I would have difficulty. Rather than forgetting I am an adult, she just continued the conversation as she carried my case on the bus, like a friend would do.

Having said all that, I am not expecting everyone to go out and have a chat with every stranger they see – that would be weird. I am simply highlighting the need to drop the fearful and awkward tones, to get rid of the uneasy body language and to remember, we are just like you! This is not to say our disability is a forbidden topic – for me, it’s not, but that will be different for everyone and the only way you can find out if it is sensitive is to ask – the trick is to get the right balance between disability talk and regular conversation.

Ireland has come so far in the last few years, as seen in recent referendums. Let’s not stop there, let’s get even better than we already are and learn to forget about everyone’s differences.

At the end of the day, we’re all Irish and can all answer to a universal “how’s things?”

Platform Series: Bobbie Hickey
1) How do you make a sandwich when you're blind?
2) Not getting the points I wanted led to the best year of my life
3) There’s benefits to being visually impaired. I get in free to Copper’s
4) I’m not blind. I’m Bobbie Hickey. Pleased to meet you
5) Starting college with no friends . . . and no eyes

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