Our book, “Smart on the Inside – A True Story About Succeeding in Spite of Learning Disabilities”, was recently published. My co-author, Eileen Gold Kushner, was feeling like a celebrity. Her photo appeared in newspapers and we were interviewed for a Comcast television program. Eileen felt proud and confident until she went to buy a new car. She knew exactly what brand of car she wanted to buy because it had a GPS system that she suited her needs. Eileen gets lost easily when driving so it’s important that she has a GPS system that she can skillfully use. At the dealership, she and her husband, Larry, picked out the car that they planned to buy that day. They took it for a test drive and Eileen asked the salesman to show her how to use the GPS system.
Before he started she explained, “I have learning disabilities so it may take me a little longer to understand everything.”
The salesman started pushing buttons, pointing to various features, and hurriedly telling her how things worked.
Eileen said, “Stop. You’re going too fast.”
The man took a breath and continued to talk at the same rate but he spoke louder.
“Sir, I have severe processing difficulties. I process slowly. “
He rolled his eyes and sighed, “Oh Mrs. Kushner, this is so easy. I guess I will just have to start again from the beginning.”
It may have been easy for him but it was not easy for Eileen. She felt her eyes fill with tears and then she said, “Larry, let’s go. I’ve decided that I don’t want to buy this car.”
She and Larry got into their own car and started driving away when the phone rang.
“Hello, Mrs. Kushner. I’m the owner of the dealership. Why did you leave?
“The salesman wouldn’t listen to me when I explained that I had learning disabilities. He made me feel stupid and dumb.”
“Please come back and I’ll have another salesman work with you.”
“I think that you should look up the word “learning disabilities” and make sure that all your salesmen read about it. They need to learn strategies to help people who learn differently. People like me don’t need to feel humiliated when trying to buy a car.”
Eileen ended the phone call just as they pulled into the parking lot of a different dealership. They found a car that they liked and took it for a test drive. A salesman clearly explained and demonstrated how to use this GPS system. Eileen and Larry bought that car and drove it home.
A few days later Eileen’s computer crashed so she needed to buy a new one. She has only been using a computer for the last 3 years so we encouraged her to sign-up to attend one-to-one training sessions at the local computer store. The advertisement for these sessions stated that the trainers pay attention to the learning style and experience level of each individual. Eileen was thrilled with her new computer and looked forward to improving her skills. Her daughter came with her to her first training session. The trainer was a young man who was very knowledgeable about this type of computer. Eileen began the session by explaining that she had a learning disability and processed things slowly. He paid little attention to her as she advocated for her needs. Instead he started opening applications, and moving files around on her desktop. Everything that he was doing was so rushed that it seemed like a blur to Eileen. After he would tell her something, he would ask her to try it on her own.
“I don’t know what you’re asking me to do. You’re going too fast. I don’t understand some of the terms that you’re using.”
The trainer impatiently showed her something else and asked her to do it on her own.
“I still don’t get it. I need to know the basics. Can my daughter explain it to me?”
He seemed really annoyed and looked at his watch to see how much longer he’d have to spend training her. As soon as the hour was up, he looked at her with disgust and abruptly left.
His insulting behavior made Eileen feel upset and inadequate. It undermined her self-confidence. Having a learning disability is a lifelong challenge. Bullying occurs in schools, training sessions, and in the workplace. Statistics show that 60 percent of students with disabilities reported being bullied as compared to 25 percent of the general student population.
We need students, trainers, salesmen, co-workers, and bosses to feel empathy and respect for individuals with learning differences.