Ever since a drunk driver plowed into the car she was riding in when she was 10 months old, Carol Leish has wrestled with vision and speech challenges caused by brain stem trauma. Now at age 36, the Oxnard woman has to combat stereotypes, too.
Like the store cashier who gushed, “Remember, we all think that you’re special here.”
Yuk. Pretty nauseating for someone like Leish, who has physical challenges but whose IQ is intact.
“Having a physical disability doesn’t mean the intellect is affected,” she pointed out.
Attitudes like the cashier’s regardless how well-meaning is what prompted Leish to become a disability consultant.
In the three years since Leish launched her consulting business, Call Me Capable, she has traversed Ventura County, giving speeches to groups of nondisabled people in order to increase awareness about the appropriate and respectful way to treat those with disabilities.
On July 26, she addressed a group of employees at Oxnard’s CalWORKS, an organization that helps people on public assistance find jobs. When she speaks, she use humor and her first-hand experience of what it’s like to be disabled in a society that sometimes doesn’t understand.
Help for the Nondisabled
When dealing with a person with a disability, Leish counsels, avoid making assumptions.
A sales clerk once began using American sign language upon hearing Leish’s slow speech. “Just because I have a speech problem don’t assume I have a hearing problem,” she said. Because her eyes tire easily, Leish learned to pace herself through college as she earned her teaching credential, and later on, when she became a teacher. Yet her attempts to accommodate her disability drew bias, both subtle and not-so-subtle.
“People think I’m not paying attention because my left eye wanders,” Leish said, “or they think you’re lazy or depressed because of leaving events early, when it’s really eye fatigue.”
Leish always kept an arsenal of quips handy. Like the one she wished she’d thought of for the clerk who assured Leish she was “special”:
“If I’m so special, where’s my free hamburger?”
Disabled From the Neck Up
Nondisabled people aren’t the only folks who may need an attitude adjustment. Some people with disabilities need to focus on possibilities rather than limitations, Leish said.
“We meet people who want to be handicapped and they’re not,” said Phyllis Dobbins, career services supervisor at CalWORKS in Oxnard.
“They use it as a crutch,” Leish said, nodding. “They’re disabled from the neck up in their attitude.”
One of Leish’s favorite models of famous dialed people with positive attitudes is Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf. “I thank God for my handicaps,” Keller said, “for through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.”
–Kim Lamb Gregory is a staff writer. You can e-mail her at email@example.com
By Kim Lamb Gregory
Ventura County Star
August 10, 1999