Saturday, October 6, 2007

Deaf customer hit in head by clerk...

A deaf customer buying two cans of Sprite was struck in the head after a clerk interpreted his lack of response to conversation as rudeness.

"Cody Goodnight, 30, has been deaf since before the age of 2 and uses sign language to communicate. When Goodnight tried to pay for two bottles of Sprite with a $5 bill, investigators said Ricky Young, 20, told them he thought Goodnight was being rude by not talking to him and hit him in the head with a crowbar." Via MSNBC

The article goes on to say that Goodknight is afraid to go any place alone.

Seeing this article reminded me of an incident that happened a few years ago. I asked the price of an item on a food carousel in a grocery store because it was placed at an angle I couldn't see from my wheelchair. A clerk picked up the ladle, filled it with food and put it right in my face, saying "Can't you read? I got better things to do." She then dumped the food on me. What she didn't realize is that her actions were being filmed on video in the store and that customers walking by witnessed this.

I took legal action. My aim was to get the store to do disability awareness with their employees and we worked things out. I discovered that the store had been sued by another wheelchair user for discrimination. Now it is like night and day when I go into that store - and my friends with disabilities report the same.

The clerk who injured Goodknight, if convicted, faces years in prison. And it's important to remember that, although these incidents don't happen frequently, if they do happen, it doesn't have to be as dramatic as being hit in the head with a crowbar to constitute assault.

No one should ever touch you out of anger that you don't respond to them or ask for assistance. This includes hitting you with an object, throwing something at you or putting their hands on you or your wheelchair, cane, etc. As rare as this is, in my work I've seen other incidents like this.

Our disabilities may prevent us from hearing someone, moving in certain ways or even may require asking a question . It is a lack of awareness of disability on the part of businesses and their employees that results in incidents. Many are not as extreme as this one - luckily- but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be addressed.

People with disabilities need to know how to respond. And if you're assaulted, call the police.


Anonymous said...

Stories like this are just stunning in their absurdity. I find myself wondering what would make this young person think that the appropriate response to rudeness - even if that were what was happening - is to hit someone on the head with a crowbar?

The story is doubly bad because the victim was deaf -- but even if it had been someone who simply didn't want to chatter with some clerk - is the crowbar the answer?

We have a Civility Movement in Duluth; I don't know if it's doing much good, but the City Council is behind it. At least some of these instances of bad behavior to people with disabilities - the ones with unwitting misunderstanding - might end if we just emphasized behaving civilly towards each other.

Meanwhile: please lock up the crowbars!

hotwheelz said...

I think the clerk is lying. Why believe him? Is he going to say to the cops oh yeah I hit the deaf guy with a crowbar and take responsibility ? He doesn't sound like the type. So he makes up this story about how he thought the guy was rude to make himself sound better.

Ruth said...

Sr. Edith - I agree that civility in behavior would be helpful. When there is a misunderstanding it seems people lack the skills necessary to handle conflict or even tolerate differences. Sadly, however, far too many incidents happen that go beyond what I'd call misunderstandings, and for this reason I strongly support hate crime laws for protection of people with disabilities.

hotwheelz- I think you make a good point about him possibly lying and fabricating a story.

Anonymous said...

I was attacked by someone after my wheelchair accidentallly hit his son's foot in a store. The man turned around and punched me around the head, leaving me with a concussion and other injuries. Police told me it was an assault but the man would have tried to go after me for running over his son's foot so I dropped the whole thing. Looking back I think I was given bad advice because first of all I didn't intentionally run over the kid's foot and secondly the doctor said the child had no injury. I was stuck with my medical bills and it took me weeks to heal. I think the man hit me because he knew he would get away with it and he did.