Thursday, 9 April 2009

Yet another foreign word...

This is a bit of a sensitive topic. I am not even sure I can handle it in a tactful manner it requires. I am not known for being tactful, as some of you might have noticed.

Yet, here we go. Just going to take a deep breath and go with it.

The disability thing. See? I said it. That was not so bad, was it.

In my spare from blogging and socializing time, I go to work. It does not happen very often, but I have to do it while waiting for my writing career to take off or husband to make his millions. (Both are totally realistic possibilities, of course)

Now, imagine any Western country and the UK in particular, and how serious the whole issue is, and then multiply the result by 100. You will then get an idea of my workplace. We must comply, be aware and provide. All of it. We also have a large body of students who are mentally and physically disabled in various ways.

The first year I worked at this place, I went to the gym at work. My iPod plugged in my ears, I strode purposely along the running machine when I suddenly noticed a large group of SLDD (Special Learning Difficulties and Disabilities, in case you don’t have a clue) students walk in with a teacher. As they studied the equipment, one of the guys came dangerously close to my machine and attempted talking to me, leaning into my personal space and dribbling a little. I was paralyzed with fear. I did not know what to do, what to say or where to disappear to. All I managed was a weak smile. Thankfully, the teacher appeared and quickly led him away.

The truth is, I was not prepared for that experience. I was absolutely terrified of the guy, because I am a product of the system that did not educate me how to deal with such cases. It took me a couple more years to be able to approach an SLDD kiosk at work, and purchase some fruit from one of the mentally handicap students.

What could I possibly know from my life back home that could prepare me for this sudden exposure to disability and learning difficulty? As a child, I often saw this neighbor boy who could not walk and I only saw him across the yard from my balcony. He always used to lie on an open terrace outside his window, looking down the yard, watching other children play. I had never seen him outside. We also had this girl who everyone laughed at. She was shouting abuse from her window, whenever you walked past, and if you were really unlucky, she would throw something down. Whatever she could get her hands on at the time.She was not seen outside very often either.

And of course, the famously known all over the Soviet Union, Lilliputian Circus.
I mean, seriously….can you believe this?

I don’t remember seeing many wheelchairs around Baku. But that is not particularly surprising. Anyone who has ever attempted to use marshrutkas (crazy mini-buses zipping along Baku streets, stopping every minute to pack more passengers in) back home would appreciate that even with two functioning legs boarding and un-boarding marshrutka without getting injured or killed demands practice and skill that I am sure not many westerners possess, even the strongest specimen.

(Funnily enough, my Soviet childhood experience fighting my way through crowds to get on a bus was perfect preparation for London underground commuting.
However packed that train is I will manage to get on it. We are talking years of practice and training. No white boys in suits stand a chance against me when it comes to getting on that train.)

So it is not surprising I still feel uncomfortable around disabled people. I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to hide this panic or pity in my eyes. So I just pretend the best I can and hope I act natural.

And thinking of how far we go in the UK providing facilities and access to anywhere we possibly can, ( and yet still being told that is nowhere near enough) I remember that boy on his balcony, and wonder whatever happened to him.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said your previous experience didn't prepare you for interacting with people with disabilities. This is why we need the CBeebies presenter with the physical disability to be on screen. It has to feel normal and natural for all types of people to integrate and be part of our lives and never go back to putting that boy on the balcony.

  2. Let's face it: Azerbaijani society doesn't have a clue when it comes to human rights. Look at the way society treats women, disabled people, homosexuals, animals, pets. This was true before USSR fell apart, and this is even more true now after so many educated people and non-ethnic azeris left the country. Living in western democracies, we often feel there is too much political correctness. My guess is our opinion would change if we were on the other side of the barricade.

  3. The one thing my Russian husband thoroughly approves of about life in the uk is the improved access to life for people with disabilities. And old people, actually, with the mobility carts and so on.

    It's nice to be reminded not to take it all for granted sometimes.

  4. The Peruvian version of your marshrutkas are called combis. The whole description you include here fits them perfectly in every aspect.
    So, maybe Azeries and Peruvians are not that different.

  5. An Azeri girl from Tabriz1 November 2013 at 08:23

    . I do not know how to react around the parents of these children. One day my supervisor in the US told me his son was retarded. I had no idea how to react. Should I have said "I am sorry"? I do not think that was the answer he expected. I think he had accepted his son as he was and did not feeling sorry from others.

  6. An Azeri girl from Tabriz1 November 2013 at 08:30

    Recently the municipality of Tabriz inaugurated a public park specially designed for the needs of children with Autism.