Every morning when I get on the bus, I wonder which direction I'll be heading. I am seeing the city, day by day, as a morning tourist. I've been to places I've never been before, seen things I'd never have seen otherwise. I like the morning mystery route being revealed moment by moment. I used to ask about the route but now just sit back and relax and let it pass me by. The same is true of my fellow passengers, some I see fairly often, some semi-regularly, some only once.
Yesterday morning we picked up a young fellow who I'd seen once before. He has an intellectual disability and, though he has few words, likes to chat. He's a nice guy, it was a nice day, we chatted. I noticed that we were travelling through a new part of the city so I knew that the next person picked up would be someone I didn't know. As it happened it was a young woman, also with an intellectual disability.
She got on the bus, very friendly greeted me and greeted the driver. She did not speak to the other person on the bus. Over the next 20 minutes or so there were two differing triads of conversations. The bus driver, the young fellow and me, being one. The bus driver, the young woman and me, being the other.
Therefore I was surprised to see that they both got out at the same stop. She got off first and said goodbye to me and to the driver. As the driver was unbuckling the other fellow, I asked him if he knew the woman who had just gotten off.
"Yes, she's nice," he said adding, "and really pretty."
"Oh," I said, a little confused at their lack of any conversation at all, not even a hello between them.
"She likes me too," he said, and I realized that I had seen her glance at him in a friendly fashion as she got off the bus.
"May I ask why you didn't talk to her when she was on the bus," I asked.
"Oh, we're not allowed to talk," he said, "we're integrated."
"Huh," this came from the driver.
"Yes, we can only talk to important people, you know, the normal ones," he said.
He got off the bus, leaving me a bit traumatised by the conversation. Why do we do what we do to people with disabilities? I understand and support people with disabilities being fully integrated into society - but to practice exclusion while calling it inclusion seems to me to be so silly that I don't know how to argue against it.
You realize that he spoke to me ... and I was sitting in a wheelchair. This means that he's learned to exclude only those who are most like himself. This means that he's beginning the process that may lead to self loathing and internalized disphobia.
This means that he's being hurt.
By people who think they are doing the world of good.
I don't know if that's irony or not but it freaking well should be criminal.