At work today, I attend a program entitled, “Providing Culturally Competent Services to Individuals, Especially Those with Disabilities.” The audience consists of counselors, nurses and social workers like me. We learn how to become more sensitive to and effective with clients of different cultures, ethnic groups or disabilities.
Walking home, I mull over what I’ve learned. I reach the first crossing, where cars turn from a busy street onto my side street. As I step into the crosswalk, a voice from the car turning in front of me screams a phrase including “mother” as the first half of the whole word, then two words that aren’t “dim wit” but which rhyme and mean the same thing.
My first thought is that this man obviously didn’t attend the same program I did. If he had, he’d be more sensitive to the blind culture. He’d understand that blind people can’t see cars. He’d have learned that a person attached by a harness to a guide dog has the right of way. My second thought is that I’m glad he didn’t run me down.
I try to understand this man’s culture. Driving is stressful. Road rage rages. Offensive driving is the rule. Perhaps he had to drop out of school to support his drunken parents who now get on his case because he doesn’t make enough money. Maybe he’s just having a bad day.
The man must not be a member of the blind culture. He may not even know anyone who is. He probably doesn’t counsel blind clients. Perhaps he thinks disabled people ought to stay home and out of sight. Maybe he hates dogs.
I cross the street and walk on. I don’t take this man’s harsh words personally. I neither call him a dirty name nor judge him harshly. I am a professional. I am above that pettiness. I just hope his girlfriend in the passenger seat says, “That man was blind, you moron. Drop me at the next corner and never call me again.” That way, he might learn a lesson in cultural competence.