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

Newcrest shareholders in class action
Newcrest shareholders in class action

Australia’s largest gold miner, Newcrest, is preparing to fight a class action by shareholders hurt by a massive financial writedown in 2013.

The move comes a month after Newcrest was fined $1.2 million by the corporate watchdog for selectively providing market-sensitive information to analyst Full Story »

Grease is still the word
Grease is still the word

Gretel Scarlett has been a little in love with Sandy since she was eight years old – and now the young Australian performer has stepped into the oh-so-high heels once filled by Olivia Newton-John.

Scarlett (who has previously performed in Mamma Mia! and Wicked the Musical) plays the holidaying goo Full Story »

Identifying MH17 bodies a forensics challenge
Identifying MH17 bodies a forensics challenge

Comment | With reports that bodies recovered from MH17 have finally left the crash site, forensic biologist Kristy Wright looks at the challenge of identifying victims.

Returning the 298 victims from Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 to their families with dignity and respect is a major priority for eac Full Story »

Sci-ku: where art meets science
Sci-ku: where art meets science

If you have views about victuals and a propensity to express them in verse, you can tout your talents in the 2014 RiAus Sci-ku competition.

“Sci-ku has been running annually since 2009 and was designed to bring the arts and science together,” RiAus programs coordinator Kiran Groom says of the co Full Story »

Helpmann Awards
Helpmann Awards

Members of Adelaide’s arts community attended the announcement of the 2014 Helpmann Awards nominations for excellence in live entertainment at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Piano Bar this month.

Full Story »
Glen Osmond
Glen Osmond

This Federation-style home boasts extensive parquet flooring. It includes nine main rooms, a generous kitchen and a family room overlooking the rear garden. A purpose-built study has its own courtyard area. The main bedroom downstairs features a walk-in robe and large en suite.

Find out more here.

Full Story »
Key players return for Crows and Pies
Key players return for Crows and Pies

AFL | Collingwood are set to regain small forward Jamie Elliott, and tall utility Ben Reid is also pushing for a recall for Sunday’s AFL clash with Adelaide.

Elliott hasn’t played since round 15 on June 29 when he suffered a hamstring injury in the match against Carlton.

The 178cm forwar Full Story »

I was suddenly, scarily, aroma blind
I was suddenly, scarily, aroma blind

PHILIP WHITE OPINION | A few years ago I took a drive through the Adelaide Hills with Paul Drogemuller, founder of Paracombe wines. It was a balmy, windows-down midsummer night: warm and slightly humid.

As we wound our way through the orchards and vineyards, he named the sprays and chemical applicat Full Story »

Markets recover from jolt
Markets recover from jolt

The Australian dollar is higher as markets recover from news of the Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine.

Early on Monday, the local currency was trading at 93.93 US cents, up from 93.72 cents on Friday.

The currency fell on Friday amid fears Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was sho Full Story »

Partners

SA celebrates royal unveiling of Flinders statue
SA celebrates royal unveiling of Flinders statue

Direct descendants of the legendary explorer Matthew Flinders gathered at Flinders University Victoria Square on Saturday, July 19, to celebrate the royal unveiling of a commemorative statute that will stand in one of London’s busiest railway stations.

Officially unveiled by Prince William at a ce Full Story »

Now “critical time” to engage with US, says scholar
Now “critical time” to engage with US, says scholar

Professor Victoria Farrar-Myers has delivered her final lecture as Flinders University’s Distinguished Fulbright Chair in American Political Science.

Full Story »
Chief Medical Officer to deliver Chalmers Oration
Chief Medical Officer to deliver Chalmers Oration

Flinders University will welcome back its first, and one its most accomplished, medical graduates to deliver the annual Chalmers Oration on Thursday (July 24).

Professor Chris Baggoley, who is Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government and a former Chief Executive Director with the South Au Full Story »