I am registered blind and live alone in London. I frequently shop independently (the shop assistants locate the items I require and I pay using either card or cash). I am, almost always unaccompanied on shopping trips, consequently the interaction is purely between myself and the shop assistant.
I spent the Christmas festivities visiting my mum and her partner in Liverpool. While there I visited a branch of W H Smiths and purchased a book, as a Christmas present for my sister. I paid for the item using my debit card and given that the transaction was between myself and the sales assistant I was surprised when she attempted to hand my receipt to my mum! My mum is non-disabled so I can only assume that the assistant felt more comfortable interacting with a non-disabled rather than a disabled person. The incident was resolved with the assistant handing the receipt to me (my mum refused to take it and I continued to hold out my hand)!
Having experienced similar incidents I’m able to see the funny side and my mum and I laughed about it afterwards. Had I been alone the assistant would have had no alternative other than to hand the receipt to me, however due to the presence of a non-disabled individual she automatically attempted to pass the paperwork to that person rather than the rightful recipient, yours truly!
On the whole attitudes towards people with disabilities have (and continue) to improve in the UK. In 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act came into force outlawing discrimination against people with disabilities in the fields of employment and service provision. The legislation has been strengthened since 1995 and has been superceeded by the Equalities Act. However despite the implementation of legislation and greatly improved social attitudes people with disabilities such as myself continue to encounter misunderstanding and, on occasions prejudice as is exemplified by my experience in purchasing a book in W H Smiths. What is the solution? Greater integration of disabled people into mainstream society is vital. As a child I attended several schools for visually impaired children and it was only on attending university that I entered mainstream education. Today greater numbers of children with disabilities are being educated with their non-disabled peers. The exposure of non-disabled children to those who are disabled is to be welcomed and will assist in enhancing understanding, however the incident in Smiths demonstrates that more education is required.
(Kevin Morris is a writer. For his latest book, The First Time” please visit http://newauthoronline.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/the-first-time-by-kevin-morris-availible-at-waterstones-for-only-0-98/).