Uncharted Territory

I had an experience today that has never happened to me and it was extremely awkward. I was unsure how to handle it, and ultimately kind of embarrassed.

I was interviewing a man for an assignment for my Comm 426 class. The assignment is to create an audio/photo story using Soundslides—a software that combines audio and pictures into a nice finished product for publication.

I’ve interviewed numerous people about numerous things and have talked to women, men, children and the elderly, but I’ve never interviewed a person who is professionally diagnosed as mentally challenged.

I was a little apprehensive to start with, but I was going to be talking to him about sports—something that I absolutely love—so I thought I’d be ok. I had a game-plan for the interview and I was prepared to enter it with confidence and come out with everything I needed.

Well, I entered with confidence, but didn’t come out with everything I needed, and probably left a little confidence behind when I exited the interview. It was tough and a place I’ve never been before.

I designed my game-plan based on techniques about interviewing I’ve learned in my journalism classes at Ohio State. Basically it was pretty simple. I made a list of 10 questions that I wanted to ask, and put them in the order I thought I’d ask them. Starting out with the easy questions, just to ease into the interview. You know, the “Introduce Yourself” questions, the “Let Me Know Who You Are” questions. Nothing to touchy.

After asking those and hopefully making the man a little more at ease, I planned on asking him about his disability and how he copes with it, and what role sports play in dealing with it. The answers to these questions would ultimately make up the “meat and potatoes” of my story.

After getting through the “main course” of questions, I was going to finish up with some sweet, fluffy questions, just to make sure we left the interview on good terms and the man would want to talk to me again. Kind of serving up a nice dessert.

All was well through the first set of questions. There were smiles, laughs and giggles. I felt confident. I thought, “Well here we go, let’s get down to business.” So, I asked if he could explain or describe his disability to me.

I was not prepared for what came next. I mean going into it, I thought the worst, you know. I think ultimately you need to prepare yourself for the worst case scenario. I thought maybe he would say that it was too touchy of a situation for him to talk about, or that he wouldn’t give me a whole lot on the surface, I’d have to dig for it.

I have strategies for dealing with these things. However, I didn’t have a strategy for what he said to me and I kind of froze, mumbled a little and ultimately ended the interview a lot shorter than I wanted it to be.

His response to me asking if he could explain or describe his disability to me:

“What disability?”

I felt awful. I felt like such a terrible person. I essentially just told this guy there was something wrong with him to his face, and he didn’t know what I was talking about.

I have never been in this situation and I felt terrible. The man was super nice and he was really genuine with me and willing to give me anything I needed, but I didn’t know how to get what I “really” needed.

The answer he gave kind of put an abrupt ending to the interview. Especially, after the about 15 seconds of awkward silence. I told him thank you and that I’ll see him later in the week to spend a day or two with him to take some pictures.

I hope to be able to sit down with him again and talk to him more, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get him to talk about his disorder. I honestly don’t know how to get him to. The last thing I want to do is offend him. I just want to be able to tell his unique story. I’m certainly in uncharted territory.

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