The first time I understood that 'they' understood was when someone with an intellectual disability spoke to me about the painful moment when he heard his mother say: "If I had known, I would have had an abortion." She said it in front of him. She said it thinking that he wouldn't understand what she meant. He did. And, maybe ironically, he died a little bit that day.
Society seems to operate on the fact that any can speak as they will regarding people with intellectual disabilities because they don't or won't understand. Hateful words thrown at people with intellectual disabilities don't matter because they, the poor happy darlings, are oblivious to the meaning and the intent. Others, maybe most others. do realize that the words hurt but have no fear because people with disabilities have no political power and their vilification isn't taken seriously. So ... those with privilege and those with power do what people do when they can - abuse their power by abusing others.
I remember seeing a man with Down Syndrome coming out of a movie theatre and being stoned to silence, being frozen in spot, by other kids tumbling out of another movie flinging THAT word around. They saw him. Of course they did. The hurt was obvious. They didn't stop. They didn't care. They were with each other, he was alone. They thought, as they were a cut above, they could cut him down. They thought his disability, his lack of understanding, didn't hold them accountable. He did. They were. They committed the five minute murder.
You know the 'Five Minute Murder?' Its when someone does something to someone else that leaves that person wishing for death for five minutes. For five minutes there is struggle for breath. For five minutes the mind tries to stop the soul from bleeding. For five minutes the will to live, the will to move and the will to go on slowly revives. Those kids committed a crime knowingly and didn't care, cause they probably thought he didn't understand of if he did 'what could he do?'
Today, World Down Syndrome Day, for me is a day of protest, not awareness. To me this is a day where we declare our allegiance. To me this is a day where we pick sides. To me this is a day where we stand, are counted and thus held accountable. It is a day where we pledge to use our voices, use our anger, use our love and use our time - to eradicate the silence that ignorance and prejudice depend upon. We pledge to teach those with Down Syndrome and be taught by those with Down Syndrome. We work towards self advocacy and towards the 'growing' of the chorus of voices of the people affected most - those with Down Syndrome. Our vision is a movement that we support, not lead. Our vision is a voice that we facilitate, not manipulate. Our vision is power placed into the hands of those who need it. Those who are murdered, five minutes at a time, throughout a lifetime.
Those who live should not wish death. Those who live should not suffer willful hurt. Those who live should not have to depend on the voice and the courage of another. That, to me, is what World Down Syndrome Day is about.
People with Down Syndrome understand - it's time others do too.