We’re not dumb, but thanks for judging us

Katie Piper was disfigured following an acid attack
Katie Piper was disfigured following an acid attack

Why do people think that because we have a facial disfigurement or disability that somehow we are lacking some brain cells? A disfigurement or disability hasn’t diminished our mind in any way, but you’d never guess that from the assumptions and actions of other people.

This is a common complaint by those with facial disfigurements. We’re not dumb, and most of us are also not hard of hearing. It’s extraordinary how some people will talk about us in our presence as if we weren’t there. Like the woman who contacted me recently to say how angry she was when two shop assistants were discussing her face well within earshot. Can you believe the ignorance of people? Apart from being appalling bad manners and very unprofessional for staff meant to be dealing with customers, it is very dehumanising and hurtful to the woman.

It would be nice to think the above action was a one-off. Unfortunately, the evidence strongly contradicts that. We need to change attitudes and the minds of the able bodied who are so quick to rush to judgment.

There is this ‘God help him/her’ attitude as if you should be pitied, when all you want is to be treated with dignity and respect. Take the consultant I went to see once. As soon as he got off the phone (he was buying a boat!) he came over to me, starting pawing my chin saying how he could do wonders for it, all the while chatting to my wife. She had to tell him that I was the patient and he should talk to me. Besides, the chin wasn’t what I had come to discuss! Incredible behaviour.

Never make assumptions about people who are facially disfigured or disabled. We may have issues dealing with our injuries, but we are not intellectually disabled. Many of us are highly educated and skilled. We don’t want to be patronised but accepted by society without fear of being abused, stared at or treated in a condescending manner. We deserve nothing less.

Just because we look different doesn’t mean we can’t do a job as well or better than everyone else. That’s a message all employers should note. Don’t judge people by how they look but how they perform. Check the CV and judge the person not the body. I have heard some incredible stories about how appallingly facially disfigured people were treated at job interviews, objectified and then disqualified before they could say a word. HR departments and employers should encourage an ethos that doesn’t discriminate against the facially disfigured or disabled. Equality in the workplace should apply to everyone without exception.

And while we’re on the subject, we need to get over the exclusion that applies to particular jobs, such as work that means you interface with the public – TV presenting, reporting, banking, etc. Judy Hemsley was denied a job because ‘she didn’t have a receptionist-type face’. When Michelle Willis was interviewed to become a nurse she was asked how she would deal with questions about her face, and felt she was being mentally assessed “as if I was not intelligent enough to be a staff nurse”.

Food for thought there for employers. Let’s end the discrimination.

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6 thoughts on “We’re not dumb, but thanks for judging us

  1. (Apologies if this posts twice – WordPress comments sending me in circles)

    Definitely identify with this Tom and have discussed it with others but in addressing this I worry about those who have learning disabilities and how they are treated and addressed by everyone . We need to ensure that everyone no matter what our disability is treated with respect and dignity in all their dealings with officialdom. And unofficialdom !

    Too often those with intellectual or learning disabilities are removed from conversations and decison making when they can make decisions or speak for themselves. If we stand up for them to be treated better and respected then the rest of us will also benefit!

    1. You’re absolutely right, of course. It would be very easy to open up the debate to include those with learning disabilities but I guess my motivation for the blog was to address a specific issue someone mentioned to me.

  2. Well siad Tom, it is so frustrating to be judged in a situation where someone else is in control of the conversation i.e. in an interview or similar, and you do not feel that you are in a position to change it – of course, now I realise that we CAN change the conversation but that takes a few decades of confidence to learn!

    Too often in these situations the ignorance is actually coming from a place of well-intentioned, albeit misguided, sympathy. Political correctness is a bit like the law – ignorance is never an excuse…

    1. I think you’re right about the occasional ‘well intentioned, albeit misguided, sympathy’. The problem is that the recipient feels patronised and that’s no way to feel at an interviewed, especially when they feel tense already. And I agree – ignorance is no excuse.

  3. Well done Tom, it made interesting reading. Let’s Face It have been fighting this battle for years. It still amazes me the total lack of feelings, respect for fellow human beings continues in each generation. How do we deal with it? By smiling at them! By showing we are far more than just our face. Take control of the situation. Challenge the whisperers, “Do I know you?” Complain to the floor manager of the store where the offending perpetrators can be challenged by their bosses.
    It is really hard to gain the confidence to respond this way, but once you have done it, it makes you feel so good!

    1. Gaining confidence is the hard part. No matter how many times you tell people they should not be intimidated they often are. However, it’s so important to accentuate the positive, so that’s where Let’s Face It and this blog come in. We highlight issues and show how they can be tackled. I’ll come back to the subject again.

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