Several of you sharp eyed readers sent me a link to the story about the television programme What Would You Do. It's a reality style programme wherein situations are set up and scripted, actors play their parts pretending to be everyday citizens and the cameras catch the reaction of people in the area. It's kind of like a sociological version of the old show Candid Camera. The episode that people wrote to me about was set in a grocery store that had employed a bagger with Down Syndrome (played by an actor with Down Syndrome) who is berated and verbally abused by a customer who calls him names, makes derogatory comments about who he is and how he does his work.
They make a point about how most people simply didn't do anything, though when interviewed later they all recognized the inappropriateness of the verbal language used in reference to the bagger with Down Syndrome. After several customers did nothing a customer named Linda Tapia took on the abuser and spoke her mind. They celebrate, as do I but less loudly, the courage of Ms Tapia in speaking up. I do not disagree, I applaud the fact that she had the moral backbone to speak up and let her voice be heard, her defense of the bagger was powerful and eloquent.
So the show demonstrates that people with disabilities really can't rely on the kindness of strangers. It wants to encourage people to speak up in similar circumstances. I can't argue with that either.
But I think there is much more to learn about society and about our joint responsibilities as parents and care providers than they seem to understand. In fact, I think the show is built on a faulty premise. They seem to think that a motivated public can rise in protection of those needing protection. I'd like to believe that's true. Not for disabled people alone, but for anyone being victimized or abused. It would be nice if the voice of the majority of good people would rise in complaint when a woman is treated dismissively by a patriarchal boss, a child is victimized by hateful words from an angry mother ... the list here is long.
But that's not going to happen.
So what do we need to learn from this?
Since the 'kindness of strangers' is no strategy for a sane person to approach dangerous situations, situations of abuse, situations of prejudice and intolerance. Then we need to think of doing something radical. We have to ensure that people like that bagger, know what to do in the face of bullying. We have to ensure that people with disabilities UNERSTAND the nature of prejudice and UNDERSTAND that they are not at fault for their treatment at the hands of bigots. There needs to be a joint 'aha' wherein we begin to do real training regarding living in the real community.
The community is comprised of wonderful people, but we know that wonderful people can be silent. So we need training so that baggers know how to say, 'You are being disrespectful, stop it.' If the woman goes ballistic, then the bagger needs to know who to report it to and how to make the situation clear.
Even the smallest baby with Down Syndrome is born with a backbone. As we teach and parent that child, we should also be giving them opportuntity to use that backbone to stand straight, to stand tall, to look bigots in the face and call them on it.
It's wonderful that Linda Tapia was there.
But it would be terrific if, in the real world, people with disabilities didn't need her quite so very much.