Friday, January 9, 2009

Show a little courtesy on the elevator

Dear Diversity Diva: This lady on the elevator where I work chewed me a new one because I turned off the elevator sound when I stepped in. She wasn’t blind and neither was anyone else on the elevator, so what was the big deal?

Signed, Failing To See What the Problem Is

Dear Failing to See: The obvious question is, how do you know she wasn’t seeing impaired or that no one else on the elevator was? Unfortunately, a lot of people are very good at relying on stereotype rather than facts to figure out what’s going on around them. For example, not every blind person or visually impaired person wears Ray Charles sunglasses, walks with a cane or has a seeing eye dog as his or her faithful companion.
In this case, however, it wasn’t a matter of you having to figure anything out. A simple asking out loud before you turned off the sound was all you needed to do. While it may have been an annoying ding to you, it may have been a visually impaired person’s best aid to figuring out what floor to get off on. After all, that’s why the device was put on the elevator in the first place.
However, inherent in your question of asking why someone who isn’t blind might have taken offense is your lack of understanding that not all people are driven by what immediately and personally impacts them. For all you know, this person may have had a blind relative or friend or neighbor, and thus has a heightened sense of concern about that issue.
Or maybe she has no personal motivation and was just irritated by what she thought was an insensitive act on your part just to avoid half a minute’s irritation by an elevator sound.
Sometimes respecting diversity and difference isn’t about you needing to know every little thing about every group, it’s just about exercising some basic thoughtfulness and understanding. In this case, asking a simple question or just sucking it up until you get to your floor.

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