Something You Don’t See Every Day
Daniel Venegas

Many years ago a close friend was paralysed in a motor vehicle accident. At the age of 27, he had to start learning to negotiate the world from a wheelchair, and I had to learn how to be there for him. The interesting thing we noticed at first was that waiters (for example) would be self-conscious about dealing with the wheelchair guy and tended to speak to me out of preference. When I redirected questions to Mark, the attention reluctantly went to him but there was a tendency to avoid eye contact.

What we both eventually realised was that our own anxiety was rubbing off on the people we were interacting with. Once he was comfortable (for want of a better word) with being out in public in the chair, and I was comfortable being out with him, the public-facing staff we dealt with were comfortable with us.

So what I’m saying here is that society’s response to the disabled is a two-way street. We were lucky in that Mark is a highly intelligent guy — a rocket scientist, in fact — so he was far better adapted to dealing with and learning from his experiences than say the intellectually disabled, who kinda have an extra disadvantage as far as that goes, but the coach going in with a matter-of-fact, unself-conscious attitude is definitely going to have less of an uphill battle than one who approaches the task with trepidation and fear. Of course that only way to get the trepidation and fear out of the way is to get experience, without which… well. That’s what experience is all about, isn’t it.