Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What He Said

Image description: in red captial letters "R-WORD NOT WELCOMED HERE" on pavement.
Dear Sir,

What it did to me when you used the R-word today you made your bigotry my problem. And I resent that. The fact that you were providing service to me, a disabled man, and in the course of that service, in a moment of frustration you said that something was "freaking r#tarded" changed everything. I spoke you to you about it, just before I was about to leave, because I was too fearful to do it during the time I needed your support, in a tremulous voice. It wasn't easy for me to do. It wasn't easy for me to see the anger in your eyes at being called out. It wasn't easy for me to leave knowing that I will need your support in the future. I was full of worry of future consequences of what I did today. I have decided that what I need to do is write and tell you what you did to me today. I want you to understand the impact of your behaviour on me. 

The moment you said that word he space around me no longer felt safe. I had always felt safe there. This is disabled space. This is a place where almost everyone, except the service providers, all of whom have been trained to provide service to people with disabilities, are disabled. There are few such spaces. This is one of them. And I felt safe here. Until you opened your mouth.

When you spoke, you used restraint, which proves you have restraint, because you didn't drop the F-bomb, you used 'freaking' rather than 'fucking.' Some part of you knew not to use that word. You stopped yourself. You chose a different word. But, I tell you this, I would have much rather heard the 'f word' than the 'r word.' But then, when you said the 'r word' you spat it out. Your  anger was in voice, and your tone which communicated disgust and distaste and disrespect and the word that you found strong enough to carry that anger was the 'r word.' You knew what it meant, you used it in a way that clearly communicated that you knew what it meant, and you didn't care.

Don't tell me that 'I didn't mean it that way' ... of course you did.

And you were betting.

Betting on the fact that as I had a physical disability and not an intellectual disability that I'd be in your camp,on your side. You were betting on my being so wrapped up in my insecurities that I'd be pleased to be included with you, and not them. That I'd be one of the ones who liked it to be clear that 'at least I'm not r#tarded.' Well you bet wrong. I am a member of many minority communities. I remember when the gay male community went through a phase where 'straight looking, straight acting' was the goal and anyone less than that, or, more appropriately, more than that was outcast. 'Flamboyant' was the word they used with derision and disrespect. I didn't get it then there.

I don't get it now, here.

You were also betting on my silence.

Betting on the fact that I needed your support and that in my need came my dependence and in my dependence came my submission. And you were right, I kept silent, until I was at the door. I did fear you. You words told me that you had violence in you. I waited until I was free of you to speak. I waiting until I could escape you. I knew that my speaking out would flame your anger, that you would immediately feel victim of my offence. And you did. I saw in your eyes first your hate, then as you eyed me up and down, your dismissal of me and therefore my concerns.

You never apologized.

You didn't feel you had to.

That tells me something about you, or maybe it confirms what I learned about you when you spoke the way you spoke.

You were betting on one other thing.

You were betting that I had no power in relationship to you. You were wrong. Right about now you should be hearing from your employer, who was shocked at what I had to say.

But, whatever happens now, happens.

I wanted you to hear from me.

That word is a hateful word.

It destroys, for those of us within the disability community, any sense of safety.

It destroys, for those of us who have disabilities, any sense of trust that we are respected.

It destroys, and you should consider this, your character.

I'm still angry.

At you.

At the word.

At the fact that I had to receive support from someone, be touched by someone, like you.



Girl on wheels said...

To be honest using that word in such a space should lead to an automatic dismissal, it's beyond inappropriate. That word shouldn't be part of anyone's vocabulary but definitely not in the vocabulary of someone who works with the disabled. Someone with that training knows exactly how wrong that word is and he still used it, and he used it with venom and no apology.

As my younger brothers have grown up I have made sure that I teach them the history behind the words I told them not to use, they know exactly why it's wrong to use 'gay' as an insult for example. I have even overheard them telling their friends off and explaining why certain words should never be used. It's part of being a good parent I have always felt, instead of punishing them I would explain exactly why that word was wrong to use. If they used it again, then they got punished! If this man was a teenager I would have said that his parents had failed him, that he wasn't to blame for his ignorance. But no he is a trained member of a disability support team and he is entirely to blame, so I hope he is punished severely.

clairesmum said...

I felt so angry on reading today's post. When I got to the end, I was glad that you could ensure that there were professional consequences for him for this action. I was also sad for all of the people who have to receive care from this man who do not have the ability to speak out (and be believed) about his actions. And I felt grateful, Dave, for your writing and your being in this world and being who you are.

Anonymous said...

I work with mentally disabled individuals and at times during medical encounters with people unfamiliar with them I may have to inform them of their diagnosis of " mild MR". My individuals are always quick to add "I don't like that and and I am not retarded" I always reassure them it is just a medical term and agree that they are actually quite smart! It always pains me for them when this occurs.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Glad you have the power - and of course you would use it to protect not just yourself but others.

Whatever value that word had as an explanation of anything has long ago disappeared; it probably started being used pejoratively as soon as it was coined.

People's attitude will find an outlet somehow - this person should not be in contact with people he has contempt for. Period.

Ron Arnold said...

As American middle class heterosexual white male - I've not been vulnerable very often in my life unless I have chosen to be. (Relationships mostly.) And there are times in my life where I have dwelt in that ignorance of vulnerability and had inadvertently made folks uncomfortable via my words and actions. The older I get - the more I try to act out of a kind of 'universal precaution' in terms of consideration and kindness. (I'm an oaf sometimes.) Self-control and self-censorship in order to keep folks feeling safe is different than the censorship that stops discourse. Sometimes folks don't make that differentiation.

My question is - if the fellow is terminated from his position - will he learn from the experience or will he harbor resentment and anger at what was 'done to him'? Judging from his choice of words in a public space . . . I'm not real confident it will be the former.

Wheelchair said...

Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
Transport Wheelchair

Keep Posting:)

Anonymous said...

I am so thankful that there are people like you, brave enough to speak out, and the experience to follow through. I was a little confused on your fear. What can he do to you? Sure, he may have been annoyed (or mad), but really, what did you have to fear? Were you really dependant on him? If he was part of an organization, and you were a "customer", you really had the balance of power. Not speaking up until you could "run away/escape" took a bit of the power of your position away. Just a reflection. I do hope you, and anyone else in the similar situation, never has to be subjected to a person like that again. Go Dave, go!

Mardra - Grown Ups and Downs said...

I actually was thinking some of these very thoughts and problems as I woke up today. A similar letter boiling under my skin. Thank you for sharing yours - I will surely reference this in my own. Thank you - Ms

Spirit Lite said...

As someone who works in the field of disability (not for long, only for the past 1 and 1/2 years) I truly appreciate this blog. So much so that I want to print it up and put it in my office so I can see this everyday. That word is one of the most disgusting words ever. And I loved how you really truly brought across in this blog how it made you feel. How after you confronted this felt fear because he is your caregiver. I appreciate when you wrote about this because it gives me the clear picture of how you felt while he said it and how you felt after you called him out. What worries me the most about people with disabilities especially those with severe disabilities that impact their communication who cannot tell someone "help me this caregiver of mine is hurting me", and people without disabilities who do not take the time out to really truly listen to that person, watch them truly watch them like a hawk for any signs of distress.....that scares me. In America we pay our caregivers pocket change for doing some of the hardest work ever. In America I feel that caregivers are not given the right training especially when it comes to medical (because that's my area in the field of disabilities). It scares me to think what really goes on after I've done a check when I close that door and leave that caregiver alone with the person s/he is taken care of. Of course if I ever suspect something is up I act on it immedietely. Phew I really had to let that out. Thank you for bringing awareness to this, and awareness to the "r" word, and also awareness to other words that are directed to those with disabilities. Thank you for making me think really hard about the huge amount of difficulties that the people I serve have.

Karla Monteith said...

Stay Positive! As a DSW student reading this blog broke my heart. I cant even believe that someone who is getting paid to take care for you could say , even think about saying that horrible word to you. I am so happy that you had the strength and courage to tell him what he has done, even though he should have NEVER EVER said that. Good for you stay positive and live life to the fullest !