morning bell

Vincent Valeriano, a barista, steams milk at Morning Bell Coffee Roasters on Aug. 24. 

A couple weeks ago, I witnessed an incident at a local Starbucks where a man was screaming at a female barista taking an order at the front register, who was on the verge of tears as she attempted to upkeep her customer service character. The situation worsened to the point where she had to excuse herself from the front register and rush to the back of the store, being replaced by a male barista.

There are numerous concerns surrounding this one scenario. We could discuss socioeconomic or gender aspects of the issue or how customers treat customer employees poorly, but what really should be discussed is the impact of hidden disabilities and how ordinary day-to-day activities becomes increasingly more difficult for those who have them.

The underlying truth behind the interaction is the female Starbucks barista had an invisible disability: hearing loss. She had forgotten her hearing aid at home and struggled to take orders at the front register. She attempted to angle her head so that her right ear was toward the customers, but the man spoke quietly enough where she continued to struggle. After politely asking him, “I’m sorry, sir. Can you repeat your order, please? I am still struggling to hear you.” The man’s lack of knowledge or consideration for her invisible disability caused unnecessary stress for both parties and, in this case, tears.

Here is another area of progress we must make in the twenty-first century, since there is now an emphasis on equity rather than equality and a major need for universal respect and appreciation for others.

Tip #1: Be aware.

Tip #2: Be respectful.

Tip #3: Get educated.

We now live in a world of high sensitivity, where black and white no longer exists and spectrums are the preferred medium of personal identification. There are rarely “yes’s” and “no’s” today, rather “maybe here” or “maybe there.” The man should have been patient and respectful to her attempt in grappling his order. No, we should never assume someone has an invisible disability, but we should also consider the possibility that they exist.

She should not have to notify others of her disability unless it is of her choice just because she does not have physical proof of her disability. She is tired of explaining to customers she cannot hear because of her hearing loss. Hearing loss is only one in a multifarious list of other invisible disabilities that we should be aware of when interacting with others.

Some other invisible disabilities include, but are not limited to the following: anxiety, diabetes, endometriosis, Lyme disease, migraines, repetitive stress injuries and even scleroderma. Many of these cause intensive pain, whether the person who has it exhibits their pain or not. Invisible disabilities range from minor to major physical or mental pain, which habitually inhibit persons with invisible disabilities from participating or performing to the best of their ideal ability.

If you see someone struggling, but do not quite understand why, be an advocate instead of an anxiety trigger. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce,  there were 26 million Americans in 1997 considered to have a disability, but only 7 million of them had apparent physical evidence of their disability. And the number is increasing. Be consciences. Be understanding. Be patient. Invisible disabilities are frustrating to live with, especially when it impacts one’s ability to live every day.

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