Readers ... your opinion is sought. I recieved the following letter in an email and I wrote back and asked permission to share it, as written, here on the blog. I love the fact that the blog is sometimes a forum for debate and discussion. I, like Kerri, and interested in what you have to say ... I'll weigh in later in the day.
I’ve been following your blog for a few years now and have admired your work ever since I saw your keynote address at the Canadian Down Syndrome Society conference in Winnipeg about 11 years ago (was it that long ago? Wow.)
I’ve enjoyed your occasional posts about dilemmas where opinions were solicited - now I have one for you. I can’t even decide what I think about the situation and would love to know what other think. I’ll try to write about the experience objectively, although I’m not sure I can be completely unbiased. Feel free to use this on your blog if you like (or not, it's your blog :)), and edit as needed.
I went to our regional high school Special Olympics track and field meet yesterday. As with past years the athletes sorted themselves in to school groupings – about 14 schools I think - and lined up behind the stadium to march in accompanied by the police pipe band, school banners held high. I would have to guess there were 300 athletes cheering, waiving flags and blowing horns. Walking, wheeling, hopping, running, limping, shuffling. Athletes of every shape, size and ability but what held them in common was their enthusiasm and excitement.
A contingent from one high school boasted a range of wheelchairs from the sport model to the fully equipped motorized chair with add-ons for medical needs. Within this group I noticed a core of people, a couple of athletes and a handful of what I assumed to be peer coaches carrying hand-painted signs on bristol board. “Ra-ra Boom!” “Go [school name] Go!” Some others I don’t recall. And then, held aloft by an older teenage boy in a wheelchair, a big sign with large, brightly painted lettering, “Hot Girls Check in Here”.
I don’t know the boy, I don’t know the school or it’s culture, or any inside jokes that may have been the reason for the sign. Maybe the boy is popular and a favourite with the girls. Maybe he is not.
Here’s what I do know: If a high school student held up a sign with those words in any other place it would be inappropriate. Unacceptable. Offensive. Girls are not to be judged on their “hotness” and be told where they should or should not go. People with disabilities should not lobby for equal rights and privileges in life but expect different rules of acceptable behaviour – the sign would not be acceptable at any high school event.
Oh, but it was just a joke. Didn’t mean anything by it. I wasn’t talking about you. Lighten up. The classic rebuttal for every complaint about name calling, bullying, taunting, unfairness, and discrimination. Which automatically makes the complainant look like, well, a complainer. But I’m drawing a line in the sand - you’ve taught me well, Dave, that words matter. And words hurt. Let’s face it, if we measure by society’s yardstick of “hotness”, there wouldn’t be too many girls at a Special Olympics track meet who would qualify to join the line under that sign (please note the sarcasm here).
Worse still was the thought that whoever created the sign was mocking both the boy and the gathering of athletes? Like I said, I don’t know the individuals or the school. Where were the teachers in all of this? I can’t say. Could you?
Am I over reacting?