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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Give Credit where Credit is due

Published August 4, 2015 5:08 PM by Debra Karplus
The other day, I was riding on a commuter train. The last passenger to board the train at my stop was a young woman who was using a blind cane; let's call her Mary. The conductor escorted her to a seat in an area designated for people with disabilities. Not being particularly social when using public transportation, I became engrossed in a Sudoku puzzle as the train started moving. Other passengers were using various electronic devices, reading the morning newspaper or chatting with their seat mate.

After a while, above the rumbling sound of the train and its whistle, I heard Mary say rather loudly to her seat mate, "I hear water running, do you think something might be leaking from the bathroom?" I looked up and toward the front of the train where there was a rest room, as did other passengers on the train. How perceptive Mary was; someone had left the sink running in the tiny train rest room and there was now water all over the floor, a safety hazard, for sure. One of the passengers called the conductor for assistance, and the problem was quickly resolved.

So why am I even sharing this anecdote? Yes, I have worked with people with all sorts of physical, mental, and developmental disabilities over the course of the past forty years as an occupational therapist; and yes, when I am working in a clinical setting and these people are my patients, I am always very positive and respectful to them and, as we learned in OT school, I focus on their strengths and abilities rather than on their weaknesses. But in my personal life I find that, admittedly, I sometimes simply fall short - certain arrogance sets in that I am not particularly proud of.

As the ride continued, I heard Mary tell her seat mate that she was working on a PhD at the university, and I thought "way to go, Mary." She has more education than I do! And I wanted to whack myself on the side of the head and say, "Debbie, you fool, why did you even find it noteworthy that Mary was the person who noticed the bathroom train leak that no one else suspected?"

I think it is good and humbling to have these sorts of reminders in our daily lives: that people with disabilities are really not as different as we are, and that they have skills and abilities, often better than our own.

So once again, I find myself with "egg on my face." Not so unusual. If my adult children or even my grandchildren should be reading this blog, they are probably thinking, "Yeah, that's our mom all right."

Anyway, I would like to hear from readers about times when they might not have given enough credit to a person with a disability either in their professional or their personal life.

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