"Are you drunk?" No, just fabulous and disabled

Melbourne-based stroke survivor Emma Gaffy experienced discrimination from bouncers when going out with friends, because of her disability. Source: Supplied

Being a young person with a disability has exposed stroke survivor Emma Gaffy to a whole range of prejudices she never realised existed.

So the other day, I finally got the motivation to attend a CLASS at my gym. Prior to this – I’d managed to convince myself that powering away at the bike for half an hour was as beneficial as a class aimed at strengthening a particular region of the body. Like Yoga. Or Reformer Pilates – still have to try that one! Anyway, I caught a cab (no time to walk) and got to the gym 10 minutes before the Feldenkrais class started. Felden- what??? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. It was the only class on when the sudden moment of motivation grabbed me. Feldenkrais is a ‘form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning’.  It was different to say the least. I think it'll actually be really good for me (or anyone with a brain injury) in the long run. Just a warn you, this is not a sponsored post on Feldenkrais - even though I keep using the word ;) – it’s actually a post stemmed inspired by a really interesting girl I met in the class – Eva.

Eva, a performance artist, also has an acquired brain injury after an accident she sustained. Among other things, she’s been left with a limp. She happened to mention that she often gets questioned and/or refused entry from clubs and pubs because idiotic bouncers assume she’s drunk. She asked if I’d ever experienced the same…

Ahhh the memories…I’ve subtly referred to this in the past – being ejected from lines or doors after being told I was “too drunk to enter the premises.” Ok, admittedly, there have been a few occasions where our pre-drinks have turned into bottles (rather than glasses) of champagne being enjoyed - before we even arrive at our chosen venue. BUT – the fact that the bouncers automatically comment (or straight up POINT to my right-side) on ‘my walk’ signifies that’s ALL they’ve noticed – not the fact that I might be a lil’ giggly. There’s been varying degrees of stupidity (or plain asshole-ish attitudes) directed at me from bouncers and security guards. My reactions have varied too over the years – whereas once I would’ve cried in embarrassment, now I take it upon myself to embarrass the hell outta them by correcting their mistakes. Attitudes can be transient – sometimes you have to change them for other people.  

Recently a fellow blogger wrote about assumptions on appearances and it caused quite stir on social media. She also wrote a fantastic related blog in which she said: “I don’t think I need to turn every question, comment, stare or taunt into an opportunity for education. I don’t like how strangers feel they can intrude on my life by needing to know "what happened?”  (Thanks Carly). However, sometimes, in certain situations, you are left with no choice BUT to educate them or go home. It comes back to stereotypes. WHY would a girl with a disability be trying to get into a club? WHY isn’t she in a wheelchair if she’s supposedly ‘disabled’? WHY doesn’t she ‘look different’ if she claims to have had a ‘brain injury’? So, I’ll tell you about some of the ridiculous experiences I’ve had in recent years.

This night was DEFINITELY the most humiliating (perhaps shocking is a better word) treatment from a bouncer. It was only few years after I’d learnt to walk again so, I always a lil’ unsteady on my feet. My friends and I lined up on the footpath for what seemed like forever to get into a nightclub in Brisbane. So – this particular night I had a group of friends with me, pumped to fight the crowds and secure a spot on the dance floor, down a few dirty drinks and basically have a good time. Finally we got to the front of the line. We approached the door and pulled out our ID, but one of the bouncers held his hand up to me and shook his head.

“Ahhh no, you are NOT coming in.”

“Excuse me?”

“You are obviously way too drunk.”

And with that he closed the ‘velvet rope’ and motioned for the next group to come forward.

“Look, I’m not drunk, I’ve just got a limp.”

“Remove yourself from the line please.”

“I’ve had a brain injury, that’s why I walk like I do. It’s called hemiplegia.”

He screwed his face up and looked me up and down. By this stage my friends were trying to intervene but I wouldn’t have it. I wanted to reason with this dickhead myself.

He laughed, “We’ve heard every excuse under the sun, whatever, you’re not coming in.”

My friend pushed forward and angrily said “She’s had a stroke ok!”

With that, I thought he’d back off – but no such luck. The line of people behind us was becoming agitated. Although, curious to hear/see what the fuss was about.

"The attitudes of others are often a MAJOR barrier to people with a disability enjoying a ‘normal’ life."

The bouncer laughed again.  “My Dad had a stroke, I think I WOULD KNOW if she had had one!” He almost spat the words in my direction.

I stood there shocked. Then calmly got my disability pension card out of my clutch and handed it to him. He put his hands up as though the card was on fire – he refused to take it.

“Why would I carry one of these around if I were ‘faking’ it? Seriously, who would want to admit they had a disability if they really didn’t?” I felt my eyes welling up with tears. This asshole was going to ruin my eye makeup.

“Look, just get out of the line!” He yelled.

I turned to leave, my friends stood their ground until they saw me walking back past the line we had waited so long in. About 150 pairs of eyes ogled me as strode past – trying not to cry. I’d unintentionally created my own version of “the walk of shame.” These days, I laugh about it but back then I was so sensitive.There were plenty of others instances in Brisbane, but more recently I’ve been subject to the incorrect assumptions of a few Melbourne bouncers. Here's a few instances across different venues:

  • Not once, but twice, the bouncers on the roof have blatantly questioned why I needed to use the lift. I explained to one guy, he still shook his head and then a nice bar attender saw what was going on and intervened.
  • I tried to use the lift to go to the top level and the bouncer bluntly said, “Use the stairs.” I said, “I’ve got a disability,” he said “The lift is broken.” I looked at him, raised my brows as if to say, are you shitting me? With that look he said “Ok, just you.”
  • The bouncer looked me up and down, walked back inside, returned with a bottle of water and handed it to me. Did he actually have ESP? I was actually parched.
  • The usual. Myself and a friend (who was actually drunk) walked up and the bouncers stopped me. “Hold on, we think you’ve had too much to drink to come in.” I hadn’t. My friend had. I briefly explained my…’situation’ I guess I called it? They were VERY apologetic. That was definitely a first.

The attitudes of others are often a MAJOR barrier to people with a disability enjoying a ‘normal’ life. Accessing public services, experiencing a healthy social life, maintaining contact with others, transportation, education – basically anything outside of the home. So next time you’re quick to judge, take a moment and think - I don't know this person's circumstances?  Lucky for me, I’ve gotten over that – now I hold the power – not the uneducated wankers who stand at doors for a living. Rock your walk in a hot pair of shoes (they don’t have to be heels).              

This was reposted from One Girl and the Sea with the author's permission.

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