Visibility and Volcanoes

When we think of Volcanoes we think of a big eruption, right? We think of the breaking point, when some slip deep down in the crust of the earth happens and these giants rumble to life with a large fiery display of magma and smoke. We don't often think about the millions of years of pressure and a push or slip of tectonic plates below the planetary rock building up, waiting, waiting, waiting for that mighty moment of movement when things all come boiling over.

While preparing to open our doors in 2011, our team of about 17 individuals with varying degrees of ability and attention took BC FoodSafe and WoldHost(formerly SuperHost). We learned all of the skills we would need for safe food handling, and we learned some very interesting facts and techniques about customer service. I had taken both courses previously, but I did learn a lot of new things, and an enormous amount about how different people learn in different ways and at different rates. Another thing in particular that stuck with me all these years later was the concept of “Volcano Customers”.


Well, Volcano Customers are kind of like real Volcanoes, the mountain kind. But the thing about people volcanoes is you never see them coming, because they aren’t a particularly statuesque type or person, they aren't red. There is no google maps dropped pin flashing above their head warning you that they are coming. Ready to EXPLODE! This is because it’s little things, building up over time. They are people who have had something going on in their life that you would never know about. They are every one of us, in fact, we are all Volcano Customers at one point or another. It’s things like a family issues, a car accident, some sort of medical ailment, or it could be something as simple as running out of cream for your coffee in the morning. It's all the little things that build up to all the pressure. Over time all of those little things in our lives, the surges of pressure we all feel, and then the tiny little nudge that will create an explosion.

You burnt their toast. Burning the toast of a Volcano Customer is symbolic of the exact moment when the shift of the tectonic plates occurs and an eruption is triggered. A Volcano Customer often doesn’t realize the effect their eruption has on those around them, just like a Volcano building up and creating a mountain in the landscape. They have had their release of pressure. But like the mountain kind of volcano, the ones with the smoke and the magma, they usually leave all this ash and smoke and new volcanic rock in their path. This residual junk that is left behind is representative of the emotions that the staff member, or business owner, or just the person walking down the street who caused that tiny shift in the proverbial plates is left the sort through. What we were taught in WorldHost was that Volcano Customers are not our fault. We can’t control what has happened to every customer who walks through our doors. What we do have control over is our reaction to these customers. How we sort through the emotions we feel after an eruption, and how we are able to move on with our work day without the smoke looming over our heads.


You might be thanking me for all of this great information that we all learned from these programs that day five years ago. Or you might be asking what on earth a volcano has to do with visibility. Well, the type of visibility that we talk about a lot at COCO Cafe isn’t the same visibility that is a measure of the distance at which an object or light can be clearly discerned. When we talk about visibility we are talking about weather or not a disability is visible or not. And why does visibility just scream volcanos to me? Well, because a lot of times a disability is invisible, just like a Volcano Customer. Sometimes you might see a person who has a highly visible developmental disability. Or more likely, you may see someone who has a completely invisible disability, a disability that is undetectable to you.


One of the most common developmental disabilities that you may not be able to detect at first glance is Autism (ASD). Autism is a spectrum disorder, a spectrum disorder means a that people who are on the spectrum may have a varying degree of symptoms, or conditions that are related to one another, or are thought to be caused by the same underlying mechanism. Sometimes Autism is referred to as an umbrella disorder, because it encompasses a lot of different symptoms that may not appear to be, or are not singularly believed to be linked. Another developmental disability that can be invisible is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). 

Imagine this:
You’re on the Autism Spectrum and you’re in a busy cafe, people talking. You’re behind the counter. DING, DING. There is food to run. A line up of people to the door, people talking, are waiting to be served. DING, DING. More food to run. RING. RING. RING. The phone is ringing, whose going to get the phone? “Hello, how are you?” the woman standing infront of you asks. “I’m good,” you respond, even though all you can think about is the spoon scraping the plate in the dining room.  BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Muffins are done. “How are you doing?” you squeak out, as you’re thinking, “Who’s going to get the muffins? I hope the muffins don't burn.” “Well I would be better if the cream wasn’t empty, and my toast wasn’t burnt,” says the customer, who has a lineup ten deep behind her. “Oh no, who burnt the toast?” TAP, TAP, TAP. “Why is she so mad, I didn’t burn her toast?” you’re thinking. You freeze.

This is why volcanoes scream visibility to me. You always hear those phrases where people give you all of this great and valuable advice like “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about, be kind always” or “walk a mile in their shoes”. You don’t know when your next volcano customer will walk through the door, and we should always be aware of that great advice to be kind always, to our customers, because we don’t know what kind of battle they are fighting. But when the tables turn, and you walk into a coffee shop, and your toast is burnt, take a look around and say to yourself “hey, I don’t know what kind of a battle these people are fighting, and I don’t know what things will affect them.” A lot of developmental disabilities are invisible and we need to be careful not to judge people for the mistakes they make, or the disabilities they may have. We need to be sure to be kind always, and realize that you don’t know what a mile in their shoes would be like. Let’s take some time, collectively, and try to take that great advice. Let’s work together to make our communities safe, and comfortable for everyone. Happy Autism Awareness Day from all of us at COCO Cafe.