Beautifully dressed, well groomed, vacant smile. She sat, where directed by staff, looking straight ahead, completely unengaged with the world. I spoke to her and she looked at me, listlessly, without responding. "OK," I thought, "this woman has a fairly significant disability." Others arrived and were chatting and arranging themselves in the room. It was another day of workshops for people with disabilities, this one on abuse prevention.
We began. The workshop, though on a serious topic, is designed to be a lot of fun and filled with laughter. People aren't afraid of learning if they are having fun. Suddenly I notice her laughing, right on time, right on cue. "Hey," I think, "there is someone in there." I watch her. Her Down Syndrome, so noticible only moments ago, is receding and her personality is ascending. Now she covers her face with her hands and laughs heartily.
I ask her to come up for a role play. She's up in a flash. The role play involes her demonstrating how close it is for a stranger to come ... it's all about boundaries. She learns to assert herself strongly and loudly. She loves the attention and she's loving learning. At break chat with her and she tells me about her family and her interests - the list is long. She loves her family and is well loved by them. She even makes jokes about her MU ... ther.
Later, after lunch, I see her sitting in the lobby of the hotel the event is being held in. Her Down Syndrome mask is back on. Hotel guests walk by, stare, then look away pity (or fear or revulsion) in their eyes. No one, that's NO ONE responds to her neutrally. Everyone sees her disability, everyone sees the result of the extra gene, everyone has a reaction.
But she is immune to them. Hiding behind the mask is a vibrant woman in disguise. They'll never know, never realize.
Now, there's the pity.