Restaurant 101 – The Gimp Edition

A recent post at Feministe got me thinking about my own restaurant experiences, and how, as a person with a disability, I am treated by restaurant staff.

Let’s start from the beginning.

If we’re going to a place we have never been to, we must check if it is accessible.  EVERY time we forget to do this, or we assume that the place will be accessible, the restaurant ends up having two flights of stairs or narrow doors.  Sometimes, the staff will tell us they are accessible “but we have a few steps out front that we can help you with.”  Assholes don’t even know how much my chair weighs.  Plus, HELLO, dangerous! Lawsuits!

If I can get into a restaurant, I will either not receive a menu (because I am just at the restaurant to look at the decor, evidently), or the waiter asks if we all want menus.  Or they ask if I need a children’s menu.  I’m almost certain that able-bodied folk do not experience this phenomenon, and this menu game is only done for those who look gimpy.  I know, I know, I should ask for a menu if I don’t get one, right? But no, I just borrow my mom’s.  I don’t feel like dealing with it.  Bad activist moment.

Now, I am ready to order.  My mom recites my order for me (bad activist moment #2) because I’m not loud enough.  Sometimes I order myself.  I dunno, it’s also kind of a social anxiety thing.  I have trouble doing simple things like answering the phone or asking someone in a store to help me – so ordering food is freaky for me; I inherited this from my dad.  Either way, the waiter hardy ever addresses me personally.  This is the plight of many a gimp – the old “talk to the aide/parent/nurse, not the actual person” trick.

When my food arrives, my drink is sometimes in a child sippy cup.  No joke.  This happens more at chain restaurants like TGI Friday’s or Ruby Tuesdays.  I don’t order from the children’s menu.  I know I look young, but good god, I don’t look THAT young.  But I guess they think people with disabilities are all child-like and love brightly-colored cups with clowns on them and gigantic purple straws.  Who knows.

I can’t say this stuff happens at every restaurant, but it occurs at least 80% of the time.  I’ve learned to just deal with it – I shouldn’t HAVE to, but if I protested/corrected every restaurant or waiter that expressed ableism towards me, I would get burnt out.  So, when I encounter these moments, I just think in the back of my mind that I am doing other things to fight ableism – other things that are more creative and empowering to me.  Like this blog.



13 responses to “Restaurant 101 – The Gimp Edition

  1. Erin, I guess because I appear more able than you, I don’t get it so much, but I love when we go to a nice restaurant and they sit us under the dimmest freakin light in the whole place. Holy color contrast batman, I can’t really read the menu now. Luckily, I have a husband who will read me the whole thing if I ask, he usually offers though. This is a bad activist moment for us. I have gone to places that are fast foodish and can’t read their seemingly huge menu way up by the ceiling… so I politely ask for some other kind of menu, assuming in my head that it will be print the font size of a pin but maybe they have something. Some places have no menu’s paper or large print… hello ADA. Seriously. How the crap am I supposed to keep quarter pounder, and all the other cheeseburger slang straight.

    Furthermore, when we ask at a restraunt not to sit under the dim lights, we have been asked why. I flat out tell them that the dim ones make it hard to see. They go “oh” and then move us. What other fairly good reason could there be for not wanting to sit under a dim light???

    I too have social anxiety about ordering at some restaurants because I can’t read the menu and the crowd of strangers I’m in causes me to feel like they will judge me while at the Water Ice place because the ownder decided to pain the menu on the wall in tiny crazy stencil letters that I can’t make out the shape of. So, plain chocolate soft serve in a cup it is for me, maybe with a couple sprinkles if I’m feeling frisky.

    I feel your pain with the restaurant thing! I hope my reply makes you smile. And, since when does “a few steps” make it accessible? I would like to see the wait staff lift your chair those few steps…..

    • Thanks for commenting, Lauren 🙂 People can be so clueless about disability issues. We should start our own damn restaurant.

      Also, I have to e-mail you about something!

  2. I get the sippy cup thing too, and they talk to whoever I’m with, & the only outward marker of disability I have is a medicalert bracelet (and the autistic/epileptic vibe that follows in my wake).

    Nothing like a withering stare and “I’m 26” to get an adult cup, unless they turn to whoever I’m with and plead that theyre trying to be niiiiice.

    • The sippy cup thing is insulting and patronizing. I knew others could relate 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Oh god, I’ve been ‘read’ as the aide/nurse when out with a disabled friend. It’s like, what the hell?
    “Does he want a drink?”
    “Um, I dunno, ask him.”
    “I’m not deaf. Pint of lager please.”
    “O! K! (whispered) Is he allowed beer?”
    Fun times.

  4. Girl first of all i’m so sorry that you had to experience that so many times, i swear people have no damn sense of what’s offensive. Before i was in the hospital i’ve been to resturants also and fortunately i wasn’t treated that way. However the ironic thing is, i have noticed that since being here in the hospital the staff (nurses and docs) tend to be very patronizing and have this lovely habit of reminding me of my shortcomings and my disability. It pisses me off cuz as healthcare proffessionals one would assume that these folks had more tact but they can be just as idiotic and offensive if not more. It blows bigtime the way some people treat and view us and it sounds cleche but until they understand and experience the shit we deal with, whether its physical or social and go through then maybe their attitudes will change. And that shit about just a few steps is ridiculous, either you are accessable or not and just a few damn steps ain’t accessable! Unfortunately people are fools but fuck them, keep doing ya thing! And btw, not that this would be polite or anything but i think you should make a t-shirt that says “i’m grown don’t give me no damn sippy cup!” lol sorry you know i’m crazy like that but fuck it do what you gotta do to get your point accross!

  5. As a server, I tend to try and treat people with the same amount of courtesy and respect but not all my co-workers do. I’ve caught them and called them on it a couple of times, but it’s cool to have a resource to point them to. This is a great blog guys. Keep up the good work.

  6. Pingback: Activist Burnout « Bicoastal Gimps

  7. @Lauren: I don’t have vision problems like you, but I have to wonder what is with restaurants and the dim lights… Many of them dim them so low that even those of us with OK vision have a tough time with it! Maybe they just don’t want us to be able to actually see the food quality.

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