A couple of days ago a young woman came up to me at break and introduced herself. She had seen me present many years ago when she worked for a different agency in a different part of England. I had been invited to do a workshop for people with disabilities about teasing and bullying. I had only done that topic once before and, then, only for a couple of hours - this was to be a full day workshop. I agreed to do it because it was far in the future. But then, the future just keeps on arriving doesn't it.
I remember the day well. I had put together a variety of role plays, a game show, and had come up with two or three small group activities. I went in praying it would all go well. As a general rule people with intellectual disabilities are a kind audience - they will you well. I stumbled a few times, one of the activities worked splendidly while another one just plain bombed. At the end, I felt that the day had gone, if not well - ok. I've done that day many times since and have refined it bit by bit, audience by audience.
So it was that I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of the day and have the opportunity to chat about it a little bit. She said, "I think you should know something that came of that day ..." My ears perked up and I listened to the story.
One of the men at the presentation was a guy with an intellectual disability who, though disabled, was quite skilled. He was very proud of the fact that he could drive a car and of the independance that it gave him. One part of his routine was that he took a neighbour to a social event every Thursday, they stayed throughout the event and then he drove them both home. His family was pleased that he had a friend and a regular social outlet.
After the day on bullying, he began to think about this 'friend' and their 'outing' together. The neighbour had demanded that he drive him, demanded that he stay throughout the evening and demanded that he drive him home. He realized three things. First, he didn't enjoy the evening. Second, this man was bullying him. Third, he didn't have to put up with bullying because bullying was wrong.
He thought about the strategies he had learned days before and then went to his parents and discussed what was happening and what he wanted to do about it. In short, the neighbour was confronted, the drives ended and the guy with a disability felt quite powerful throughout.
She said that she thought I'd want to know.
I have always been convinced that people with disabilities needed skills to live in a world that more often disrespects than it accepts. That given the right tools, people with disabilities can learn to deal with bullies and tyrants. That the best protection is education.
This whole weekend I've been thinking about that conversation.
And about what it means to me.