I learn a lot about people with disabilities through the riders on Uber. Not exactly about the disabled themselves …. but the people they deal with on a day-to-day basis.
One of my first riders one Friday evening was a woman, “Kathy”, picked up at her house. I pulled up at the end of her driveway, packed with cars, and waited. Within moments, I got a call from the rider checking in to see if I “was here yet.”
Me - “Yes, I’m waiting at the end of your driveway … are you coming out?”
Her - “I’m standing at the end of the driveway.”
Me - “I’m waiting just the other side of the white SUV parked in your driveway”.
Her - “I can’t hear you …. I’m blind, by the way.”
At this point I told her I had a hybrid – my car engine generally shuts off when parked – and turned to see her standing in the driveway. I pulled my car back so that the back door was directly in front of her and let her know. She reached out, pulled the door open and got in.
She was going to the local Wal-Mart … she appeared to be dressed in a comfortable pair of flannel pajamas with a long overcoat and tennis shoes. She wore no glasses – her eyes were permanently closed – or makeup. Chatty as anyone I had ever met, I learned that she was a 31-year-old Computer Engineer working for a major company in town (just outside of DC); worked part time creating public relations materials free-lance; was supporting her Mother and a sibling in the house she owned (the one I picked her up at – a four bedroom colonial in a nice neighborhood) and met her current boyfriend – also an Engineer - on an outing with the local singles with disabilities group she was part of and was very grateful for her ability to work for a living.
On the way over there, she asked if I would mind walking her around to get her to customer service to pick up some money wired to her – and then get some cleaning supplies. No, I didn’t mind.
One thing that opened my eyes is how the people she dealt with treated her. Both at the customer service counter and the check-out line – she would ask a question … and the person on the other side of the counter would respond ….. to me. She handed the customer service person the information for the wire, and the cash was handed to me – I also got the change from the sales clerk in the check-out line. Didn’t understand that.
I also learned that she was brought up for the first 6 years of her life by an Aunt who, like her mother, was Portuguese/Mexican. Her Aunt did not allow her to speak anything but Spanish in the house (English was for the "outside") and, as a result, spoke the language fluently. As we stood in line at the Wal-Mart McDonald's ... the people behind the counter were communicating in spanish and laughing. After she got her order .... "Kathy" turned to them and started rapid firing comments in Spanish back at them as the three of them stood and looked at her in stunned silence ...
It turns out that they were talking about an "old fat man" in line ... the two of us were the only ones there ....
She also gave me a couple of lessons on guiding a blind person through a department store … one, you never guide a blind person in front of you but behind you … so you can see everything on the floor that you may miss if they’re walking in front of you …. Useful tip if you help out someone who is blind sometime.