I was in a building often utilized by people with intellectual disabilities. I had just finished a meeting and had parked my wheelchair just outside the washroom to 'shed a tear for the widows and orphans' as my father used to say. The accessible washroom was a bit awkwardly located and, thus, my wheelchair took up a fair bit of space. I had just got back into the chair, and was just turned to head towards the exit, when someone came in and, stepping by me, said, "I hope you didn't make a mess in there!"
The tone of voice was one I recognized instantly, it was the one used exclusively for people with intellectual disabilities and naughty puppies. I looked up in shock at being addressed in such a patronizing and dehumanizing manner. The person saw me, brightened with a smile and said, "Oh, my gosh, you're Dave Hingsburger! I didn't recognize you at first!" Then she chatted brightly about how much she enjoyed my lectures, how nice it was to finally meet me, how she had used my written materials over the years." I just kept staring at her, still a bit bruised by that tone of voice.
I think she realized, from the look on my face, that I wasn't really taken by the "fan" chatter and said, "Oh, gosh, sorry about before, I just thought that you were ..." she let the sentence trail off. But the world left unspoken, hung in the air, "the R word". Then, as if her behaviour was fully explained, she smiled again, said how nice it was to have met me and then she was off. I said "farewell" coldly and left.
There was no great confrontation.
I have supported, loudly and often, the effort to end the use of the "R word" in speech. I hate that word. I hate how it's used. I hate what it represents. I hate that the people who don't get it, don't get it.
Now, I want to broaden the campaign to end the use of the "R word" in behaviour as well. Being called a name, hurts. Being treated as if you deserve to be called a name, is even worse.
I found it very difficult to shake off the hurt and the humiliation in being spoken to in that tone of voice, by a stranger, about an intimate behaviour. Being talked to publicly about the supposed mess I would have made in a bathroom by someone who had no idea about my proficiency in a bathroom in a public hallway within hearing of many others was a kind of brutalization that really stung. Having my Social Quotient tied to and determined by an assumed Intellectual Quotient made no sense to me at all. The connection, in fact, infuriates me. I should be valued simply because I have value - not for any other reason.
There shouldn't be a test which determines the rate of social respect that I get:
I think that the shock of going from 'lambasted with attitude' to 'lauded with praise' is still with me. I know the woman who spoke to me thusly reads this blog and I know that this will upset her. I didn't write this blog last night when I wanted to, I waited to sleep on it. But I found it difficult to sleep. It was as if I was a 'princess' (shut up) and this incident was the 'pea'. It niggled at me and niggled at me throughout the night. So, finally, I've gotten up to say what I want to say.
To the woman, who I know is upset by reading this:
Your tone hurt me.
The idea that that tone comes easily, to all of us who have power over others, hurts me more.
The confession that I've used that tone, too often to too many, pains me most.
To all of the rest of us:
End the "R word" in speech, in behaviour and in determining value.