Recently, I visited a Tim Hortons on Vancouver Island to grab a coffee for the road and since the drive-through was backed up, I opted to go into the restaurant.
As it turns out, I was the only person to approach the order counter, which was being attended by a young man. The young man had a visor on, which he had strategically pulled down, obscuring his eyes. However, he was polite when he took my order and asked for my name and he did his part of getting my order ready with great efficiency – my much-needed coffee – so not being able to see his eyes was inconsequential. I then stood to the side and waited for the rest of my order.
The female employee who was preparing the food orders eventually called out an order for someone named “Gill.” I looked around, as the only other person was myself, and I shook my head indicating I was not Gill.
A few minutes went by and Gill did not take her order and seeing me continuing to stand waiting, she picked up the order and once again called Gill, but this time, directed it towards me. I shook my head indicating I was not Gill, but asked what the order was.
She confirmed it was what I had ordered and we both looked at the young man who had taken my order, who had been watching the interaction. He promptly advised us that it was my order and that he could not spell Cheryl, so he submitted Gill instead.
My first response was to find it humourous, as it was an odd, but harmless incident, so I offered that, although I liked the name Gill, it would have been helpful to know that he had renamed me for the purpose of my order. I then thanked him, which garnered a small smile from under the brim of his visor, which continued to hide his eyes, and I went on my way.
It wasn’t until I was in my car that it occurred to me that he most likely had a learning disability, which he probably had to constantly work around and my response, although not intended, was likely hurtful and I wish I had handled it more sensitively.
Living with a learning disability is not a laughing matter and the young man, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of B.C., is in the company of thousands of people in B.C. who struggle with a learning disability.
The Learning Disabilities Association website states,“it is estimated that one in 10 people in B.C. – approximately 400,000 – from all age, ethnic and social groups, are affected by learning disabilities.”
Upon reflection, the young man at Tim Hortons appears to be on his way to tackling his barriers through his creativity and determination, which is evidenced by him being in the service industry. The public can be demanding on those working in it, even without a disability. On the other side of the issue, there are many people whose disabilities have impacted their lives significantly, especially when looking at statistics from the criminal justice system.
On the Correctional Services Canada website, there is a report that discusses the prevalence and types of disabilities affecting the inmate population and the need to address such issues to reduce reoffending rates.
The report states, “Two Canadian studies have reported incidence rates of learning disabilities between seven per cent and 25 per cent in federal institutions,” (American institutions report up to 77 per cent of those incarcerated have learning disabilities) which indicates learning disabilities are a contributing factor to rates of incarceration, especially if the learning disability goes undiagnosed.
The Corrections’ study indicates that there are primary disabilities that are indicated through a person’s inability to perform academically, yet there are secondary disabilities that affect “self-regulatory behaviour” causing issues such as “attention focusing or impulse control.”
The study also states, “Further evidence of a learning disability may be the inability to maintain relationships or make friends, a constant feeling of anxiety, tension or depression, poor self-image, an inability to concentrate, or extreme restlessness.”
It goes on to state that many people may exhibit one or two of these indicators and not have a learning disability, but when these traits are exhibited collectively, testing should be provided at the institutional level.
The Corrections report is dealing with people who are well into their adult years and have been involved in federal correctional institutions, so the focus is on changing behaviour to prevent further incidents of incarceration.
In a perfect world, these issues would have been discovered earlier to prevent the criminal behaviour from occurring.
While much is being done to support children by identifying learning disabilities as early as possible, many still slip through the cracks and do not receive the support they need.
The young man at Tim Horton’s may, or may not have been diagnosed or supported for a disability during his school years, but one thing is certain, he was willing to work hard to overcome his disability and appeared to be a model employee – tidy, polite and efficient – he just had to do some harmless improvising to get the job done.
According to the last Statistics Canada’s Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (2006), we are improving our rates of employing people with disabilities, but they are still not being hired to the extent they could be – 51 per cent of those with disabilities are employed, compared to 74 per cent of those without a disability – so we have a long way to go still, as there are a lot of good people willing and able to work, if given the chance.
If I am once again re-named for the sake of completing a coffee or a fast food order, I will gladly oblige and be grateful that someone with a disability is being given the opportunity to showcase their abilities.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year and is president of ARMS.