What you see – and who I am

Natalie Wade - not at her regular coffee place. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily
Natalie Wade - not at her regular coffee place. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

Adelaide | The name scrawled on Natalie Wade’s take-away coffee cup by the cafe’s cashier wasn’t her own – and the young lawyer wants everyone to know why this troubles her, and why it matters.

Most Saturday mornings Natalie Wade heads out for a caffeine fix at her local coffee shop a couple of kilometers from Adelaide’s CBD.

It’s a time to relax, clear the hangover maybe or perhaps just chill. It’s a break whatever for the 23-year-old lawyer with the State Government where she deals daily with all manner of housing, arbitration and litigation matters.

She goes to the same coffee house every weekend as it has wi-fi and the weekend’s newspapers are spread out on the tables for everyone to grab. That’s important for Nat. Papers stacked in ascending shelves can put a block on her reading before it’s begun.

Her local isn’t the comfy, ultra familiar Central Perk we’ve seen in ‘Friends’ over the years but it’s a decent enough spot. Two weeks ago she called in as usual, chose her skinny cappuccino and gave her name to the cashier while the barista made up her order.

Nat stayed and enjoyed the drink until she chanced to look at her cup, a standard brown takeaway type with a detachable plastic lid. The side of the cup lists a dozen different choices of coffee and above this there’s a space for the name of each customer.

‘Nat’ or ‘Natalie’ would have identified her perfectly while a misspelling or even a complete mistaking of the order with another customer would have gone unremarked.

Only the name on her cup didn’t say Natalie or Natasha or Norman or Ned. It read simply ‘wheelchair’.

A skinny cappuccino for 'wheelchair'.

A skinny cappuccino for ‘wheelchair’.

Nat has been in a wheelchair all her life. She’s never walked, not even a step. Her mode of transport is an electric powered thing, low level, nifty and it does the trick. It gets her places -to the bus stop each day, to classes at Adelaide Uni when she was a student there, and early every morning it gets her to work.

“The cashier obviously didn’t hear or understand me and so instead of asking for clarification wrote this,” says Nat. “I didn’t realise until I left – I had sat there reading the entire Saturday morning paper drinking a cup naming me as an object.”

Twenty-three-year-old Nat was born with an undiagnosed medical condition, a congenital muscular myopathy.

In her 23 years, she has never made a single official complaint about education, services or living arrangements. She’s fought for funding, to be able to live alone and for the help she needs to get ready every day. She has a great best friend, Jess, who is always there for her, many other mates too and a dedicated and supportive family.

“I’m not sure that the name on my coffee cup could be any more misleading,” Nat smiles.

“The wheelchair component occupies really none of my life – arguably there could be an exception of approximately three hours of my day where the reason behind the wheelchair causes me to have assistance but beyond that…..”

For those three hours, Nat needs full support to achieve the most fundamental of tasks, like getting dressed and going to the toilet. But by positioning these supports around her work and social commitments, she manages a full and independent life virtually uninhibited by her physical disability.

She reckons there are two or three incidences each day when the wheelchair is the vehicle for her to be treated differently to the average person on the street. Small slights often, many unintentional, people speaking to her carefully and loudly, always loudly, the nutter on the bus targeting her with sympathy and words of advice.

She told her friends and work colleagues about the Saturday coffee, stuck it on social media to an overwhelming response of “it’s mean and rude with comparisons to calling Aboriginal people black or writing gay on someone’s coffee cup.”

So she wrote to the coffee people – it’s an international company, you’ll know it – and got a phone call from a customer services operative. A pleasant call. They’d look into it, he said, and conduct an internal investigation. Oh, and have a free coffee on us.

“I do not want anyone suspended or sacked,” says Nat. “If that happens I’ll defend them myself.”

She doesn’t want to name the cafe – it could become the object of a campaign, which Nat believes would miss the point.

What she’d really like is to make the smallest dint in a general outlook towards people with disabilities of all kinds. A wholesale re-evaluation of corporate attitudes might be more appropriate given the initial company response. She knows the scrawling was thoughtless and nothing more but it’s a worry that this big, international company sees little wrong that a gratis cappuccino or two won’t fix.

This is what Nat first said when she got in touch with me about the story.

“The most peculiar thing happened to me yesterday so I thought I would drop you a line. I could explain this peculiar moment to you in play by play detail but a picture speaks a thousand words…. Yes, you are seeing that right. It’s a coffee cup that says my name is ‘wheelchair’.”

Perception clearly can be everything but if you’ve read this all the way through, it might lead to a move, however small, in the right direction.

 Next
 Prev

Highlights

Long queues as new iPhone goes on sale
Long queues as new iPhone goes on sale

SYDNEY | The number of people in the queue outside Apple’s Australian flagship store in Sydney’s George Street had passed 1200 when the doors were opened at 8.01am today.

Out walked a Californian named David Rahmimi 15 minutes later, his wallet some $2000 lighter, clutching an iPhone 6 Full Story »

Restaurant review: Jamie’s Italian
Restaurant review: Jamie’s Italian

RESTAURANT REVIEW | Jamie’s Italian opened last month to much fanfare, but does its food live up to the hype that has surrounded the celebrity chef’s first Adelaide foray?

With millions spent renovating the old Westpac Bank building, the restaurant is now probably the best and most extra Full Story »

What’s on in South Australia
What’s on in South Australia

WEEKEND PICKS | Chinese psychedelic rock band Nova Heart and cutting-edge contemporary dance troupe Tao Dance Theatre will headline the closing weekend of the OzAsia Festival. Other weekend picks include a showcase of songs from the Vietnam War era, International Grenache Day celebrations, a new exh Full Story »

The Infinite Man
The Infinite Man

FILM REVIEW | Imagine your future self returning to the past with the benefit of hindsight to have another go at getting it right.

Filmed in outback South Australia, this fascinating movie poses a number of questions about life and relationships, asking: “Are we crazy to think we could be happy? Full Story »

Car no longer king in urban streetscapes
Car no longer king in urban streetscapes

A pedestrian-friendly approach to urban design is transforming some of Adelaide’s streetscapes into thriving community and commercial hubs.

Landscape architect Lisel Ashby told a recent urban design conference that a tough business environment had helped force a rethink about the role of city stre Full Story »

Quest King William South opening
Quest King William South opening

The new 14-storey Quest King William South was opened last week by Deputy Premier John Rau at an event attended by tourism and hospitality identities from all over Australia.

Full Story »
Adelaide
Adelaide

This two-storey 1880s bluestone residence is just steps from the East Parklands. It features an English-style garden and a vine-covered terrace. Secure pedestrian entry from Nil Street is through a wrought-iron, intercom-controlled gate, while vehicle access is through the twin, automatically-con Full Story »

Richardson: Brock risks everything
Richardson: Brock risks everything

Comment | If the Liberal Party needed any further evidence that Geoff Brock would never enter their tent, even for a moment, it got it during yesterday’s debate on marine parks.

The fate of Michelle Lensink’s bill to roll back sanctuary zones in some of the state’s prime fishing locations ulti Full Story »

Classic grand final looms
Classic grand final looms

SANFL | We are in a brand new era of SANFL football, but this season’s deciding clash stirs up memories of the rich local history between teams from different ends of our city.

Port Adelaide and Norwood share 65 out of the 131 SANFL League Premierships decided.

Port Adelaide pushed South Austr Full Story »

Partners

Flinders engineer sets sights on Singapore
Flinders engineer sets sights on Singapore

Distinguished Australian biomedical engineer Professor Karen Reynolds will lead a group mission to Singapore at the end of this month to broaden Flinders University’s international research and development horizons.

Professor Reynolds – who was named a finalist in the recent Women in Innovation Full Story »

Essendon chief reflects on Flinders Uni days
Essendon chief reflects on Flinders Uni days

“Can I call you back in ten minutes? I just have to do something quickly.”

Essendon Football Club’s recently appointed Chief Executive, Xavier Campbell, is, as you would expect, pretty busy on a Friday afternoon.

He’s not too busy though to free up some of his valuable time to speak with som Full Story »

Awards for outstanding Flinders teaching
Awards for outstanding Flinders teaching

The Federal Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching has recognised two individual academics and a group of teachers at Flinders with Citations under the Australian Awards for University Teaching.

The 2014 citations were announced this week by Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

Dr Julia Erh Full Story »