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

Political support for Uber taxi alternative
Political support for Uber taxi alternative

Adelaide | The car hire booking service Uber, labelled “illegal” by the State Government, has gathered some qualified political support with the Liberal Party refusing to join condemnation of the service.

One Upper House MP is prepared to introduce amendments to fix any legal problems wi Full Story »

Hyde Park
Hyde Park

This sophisticated sandstone villa features luxurious Carrara marble finishes and lofty ceilings. It includes open-plan living areas, an in-ground pool with solar heating and lighting, ducted reverse-cycle air-conditioning and open fireplaces.

More on the property here.

Full Story »
Hewitt ponders his future
Hewitt ponders his future

TENNIS | Lleyton Hewitt admits he’s unsure if he’ll return to the US Open after completing the worst grand slam season of his celebrated 18-year-career.

Czech powerhouse Tomas Berdych handed the former world No.1 his heaviest defeat at Flushing Meadows in a decade on Wednesday, a 6-3 6-4 Full Story »

White rites of spring
White rites of spring

PHILIP WHITE REVIEWS | Whitey’s peeled the lids off the first whites of spring – a trio of affordable drops from O’Leary Walker.

O’Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2014
$20, 12% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points

Consistently at the forefront of the fine, forceful Rieslings of Watervale, Full Story »

David Suchet shines in papal mystery
David Suchet shines in papal mystery

THEATRE REVIEW | The Vatican within Rome is the spiritual centre of global Catholicism. It is also the smallest recognised and independent city state in the world. In terms of its influence and wealth, it is remarkably powerful, and thus a choice subject for Roger Crane’s play The Last Confession. Full Story »

The Kindergarten Teacher
The Kindergarten Teacher

ISRAELI FILM FESTIVAL | Nira (Sarit Larry) is a middle-aged kindergarten teacher whose routine life is reinvigorated by the discovery that one of her pupils is an artistic genius.

From time to time five-year-old Yoav (Avi Shnaidman) begins to pace across the kindergarten floor, indicating that he is Full Story »

Swedish tale laughs at the absurdity of life
Swedish tale laughs at the absurdity of life

FILM REVIEW | The novel by Jonas Jonasson with the unwieldy name The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared became a huge hit in Sweden when it was first released in 2009.

Being Swedish, I finally relented and struggled through it last year. It isn’t my kind of book. It’ Full Story »

Saving the earth from roads
Saving the earth from roads

Comment | “The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads.”

These might sound like the words of an eco-terrorist, but it’s actually a direct quote from Professor Eneas Salati, a forest climatologist and one of Brazil’s most respected scientists.

Many scientists share Full Story »

Centre ArtBeat showcase
Centre ArtBeat showcase

Guests at Centre ArtBeat’s 2014 South Australian Living Artists showcase event held at the Adelaide Convention Centre this month enjoyed the work of three artists and a collective photographic exhibition.

 

Full Story »
Stirling
Stirling

This villa was once owned by the daughter of EC and Lady Stirling, after whom the township of Stirling is believed to be named. It features open fireplaces, high ceilings and polished floorboards. The residence also includes four double bedrooms, an office, lounge and formal dining space and a lar Full Story »

Partners

Flinders sleep experts try new tactic to fight fatigue
Flinders sleep experts try new tactic to fight fatigue

In a world-first, sleep experts from Flinders University are attempting to fight fatigue caused by insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) by treating the two conditions at the same time.

Led by internationally-renowned sleep disorder specialists Professor Doug McEvoy and Professor Leon Lack, th Full Story »

Scholarship helps student save lives in Malawi
Scholarship helps student save lives in Malawi

“There was one young boy who we treated for cerebral malaria.

“After the treatment was finished he remained unresponsive, and as the clinic could no longer provide care for him he was discharged home.

“Two weeks later he returned bright, reactive and with no obvious residual deficit. It wa Full Story »

Forensic DNA to crack down on poachers
Forensic DNA to crack down on poachers

A high resolution paternity test to help combat the illegal carpet python trade is being developed by Flinders University wildlife forensic DNA specialist Sherryn Ciavaglia.

As part of her PhD under the supervision of Professor Adrian Linacre, Ms Ciavaglia is developing a DNA paternity test similar Full Story »