You’re walking down a busy sidewalk and several feet away you notice another pedestrian walking at a brisk pace towards you, texting on his cell phone and looking down. All of a sudden, he looks up, nearly missing you as he charges by. We have probably all experienced or witnessed someone whose attention is focused on his or her cell phone, rather than the people around him or her, often resulting in near misses. But imagine navigating crowds and this type of selective oblivion that many wheelchair users and others with disabilities experience almost daily.
So what do I mean by ‘selective oblivion’? We all have a choice to either interact with the people we come into contact with or continue on our way. One’s perception become ‘selective’ when an opportunity is presented but he or she choose to not interact or give one’s attention to the present moment.
I’ll give you some examples of how ‘selective oblivion’ happens in the context of individuals with disabilities. A wheelchair user is in a crowded room. Being seated at a lower height than the majority of able-bodied individuals who are standing, it can be difficult to navigate and gain the attention of others to politely pass by. Perception is selective in this instance when the wheelchair user clearly has the attention of the group of people around them, but they choose to ignore the wheelchair user or move out of their way.
Another example some wheelchair users are familiar with is when they try to gain the attention of a group of people by saying “excuse me” or even politely tapping individuals on the arm to excuse himself or herself while passing by, only to be faced with those individuals ignoring them completely.
A person with a hearing impairment might be faced with similar ‘selective oblivion’ when they initiate an interaction but are ignored because the other individual is uncomfortable or unsure how to interact with someone with a hearing impairment.
I believe selective oblivion does not always happen on purpose because people want to be rude or ostracizing (though that is often how these interactions feel), but rather many people do not have experience with people with disabilities and thus are unaware of how to interact.
The above scenarios are just some examples that point to the importance of disabled individuals to participate fully in society. If we are not taking advantage of community events, or not attending public forums, or simply avoiding uncomfortable public situations, ‘selective oblivion’ will continue to permeate throughout our communities.
Do you have any example of ‘selective oblivion’ that you have experienced as someone with a disability? Are you an able-bodied individual who has witnessed ‘selective oblivion’ within your own social circles?
Share your own experiences in the comments!