Playing With Chuggers
We call them Chuggers, which is a combination of “charity” and “muggers.” They are the people who stand on the street wearing matching t-shirts and holding clipboards in an effort to get you to give them money for whatever cause they are currently representing. These people actually are not volunteers; they are outsourced. Turns out some bureaucratic genius came up with the idea of having an agency that will be willing to stand on the street and solicit donations for any cause. One day they might be collecting for starving children in Africa; the next for the Humane Society, and the next day for child refugees in Pakistan, followed that weekend by underprivileged children in India. They are not passionate about any of the issues for which they are soliciting donations. Seeking out alms to protect those in need has now become a conveyor belt of individuals able to change their opening paragraph to suit any charity at will.
Due to my electric wheelchair, for the most part I can successfully avoid Chuggers. They are always on Tottenham Court Road and I am always able to weave in and out of them with great dexterity. Today however I was not so lucky. An overly cheery blonde Chugger got in my way and asked one of the most amusing questions I have heard in a while.
“What are you doing to help children with disabilities?”
She then proceeded to specifically name my disability as what her organization is raising money for. She isn’t seeing my disability and naming it, it truly is what this organization is devoted to. I look at her; the situation is absolutely comic. One would think that I out of all people would receive a get out of jail free card as to avoiding charity markets. After all, they are supposed to be giving money to people like me not demanding it. Today I can’t resist.
“So tell me more about what it’s like to have this disability?” I ask, just testing her knowledge a little more. She is good. She has definitely memorized the pamphlet. The problem is, she is preaching to the choir, considering the fact that I’m sitting right in front of her. I can’t help but press my luck even further.
“Wow that’s awful! How do those kids even begin to cope, what a terrible situation to grow up in.”
She thinks she has me now and offers me a pen and form to write down my bank details. “I’m sorry, I can’t write”.
“You can’t write at all?” She sounds the rare combination of disappointment and surprise. This was not in her training pamphlet when she signed on to be a Chugger. “Why not?” In the UK, Chuggers cannot write down your bank details, you have to do it for them as some sort of legal privacy act. Because I can’t write down mine, she knows she is not getting a donation.
“Because I have a disability”
This explanation has never occurred to her. I have no choice at this point but to shrug my shoulders and drive away.
For most people, disabilities don’t really have a place. They don’t recognize the problems caused by having a disability until they confront someone who is fully immersed in it. We shuffle our ill and dying into homes where experts can care for them so we don’t have to face the failures of the human body which will inevitably become our own. Worse, in Western culture we seem to like it that way.
But once we get to know someone with that condition, then all of a sudden the charity name disappears entirely. It turns into the condition that “Bob” has, but he’s able to live his life anyway and make us laugh at the local pub. We don’t see the weakness of people we know even when we are standing a few feet away from them. Rather, we see them as an entire being as opposed to fragmentary conditions. This is the difference between raising money for a cause and being passionate about one. This is why I call the people who stand on the corner of Tottenham Court Road Chuggers rather than charity collectors.
As I went down the street after my encounter, I couldn’t help but think of her original question which was actually quite poignant. What am I doing to help disabled children? The best thing for kids with disabilities is to have a society which sees them not as a cause or a victim but as unique individuals capable of racing towards their dreams and being exactly who they want to be. For disabled children, the greatest gift I can give them is not from my bank account but rather, be a successful adult and refuse the easy classification as a victim in need of a specified charity. Although, maybe that’s how the overly cheery Chugger saw me. She didn’t see the disability at all until it impeded her work. Maybe all she saw was the successful adult going down the street who wanted to help in any way they can.