I recently went into town at lunch time and bumped into one of the people we support. I had some jobs to do and we realised we were going the same way. I asked him if it was ok if I dropped something off at the Building Society and then we could walk together. We went into the Building Society and there was a queue, there were about 8 other people there. He sat on the comfy seats whilst I queued and when I was served, I noticed that the cashier was a bit stand offish with me and not as friendly as they usually were. When I had finished and walked back to the person, we were talking about and pointing at the coffee machine that is for customers to use in the seating area and how it does a really good hot chocolate. The cashier who had served me shouted across the room “Oi! Stop! You aren’t allowed to use that.” Everyone in the building society stopped and stared at me. I felt so embarrassed and I said something like, “Oh, I normally have one when I come in”. She responded by saying that I wasn’t allowed to use it and it was health and safety. She was still speaking loudly and confrontationally. She came out of the back and stood between me and the coffee machine.
I didn’t know what to say and we left. I apologised to the person I was with and he shrugged and we moved on.
It really bothered me though and I kept wondering why they had been so different on that occasion when they are usually so friendly. The only things I could think was that she was either having a really bad day or that it was because I was with a person with a learning disability. So a couple of weeks later I went back into the Building Society and asked to see the manager as I wanted to make a complaint. The manager wasn’t available but they would ask the most senior person to see me. Of course, it was the cashier who had shouted and made me feel so powerless.
She invited me into her office; I took a deep breath and explained what had happened. I calmly told her that I was a customer and an adult and I didn’t deserve to have been shouted at in that way. She was mortified of course and apologised. I asked her why she had spoken to me in that way and said that I was worried that it had been because of the person I was with. She remembered the incident and remembered the person. We started talking about what had happened and then who I worked for and that a really big part of what we do is around interactions, that it underpins everything we do.…
The result is that we have been nominated for the Building Society’s charity of the year. The whole Building Society office team came to our recent World Autism Day event and manned a stand for us. I was surprised to see the person I had the negative interaction with was the most proactive coming and chatting with people we support and making a really big effort. She’s actually really lovely and I observed some great interactions, including with the person I had been with on that day. She even got on the smoothie bike in a pencil skirt, quite an achievement.
So I don’t know what the moral of this story is:
1. Don’t touch a coffee machine in a Building Society.
2. Remember that when someone makes you feel powerless, that may actually be the experience of the people we support every day.
3. And that when you go to complain about something, it may be an opportunity to spread the word about Great Interactions (and get some volunteers for your next event!)
Shared Lives Manager