Friday, January 20, 2017

Well, He Asked

I'm at that age where I've been around for a long time, not just on this earth, but in the work that I do, that people will come to me to ask questions. The problem, sometimes, for them is that I'm also at the age where I watch my mouth just a little bit less than I did a few years back. I just don't have the strength, or maybe it's desire, to hold back my immediate reaction.

It happened that I ran into someone who recognized me and in the midst of an 'Oh, hi' kind of interaction that the fellow thought that maybe I would have time for a quick question. I did have time and I like quick questions. I like to stay nimble on my mental feet so I told him to go ahead.

He told me that he was working with someone with an intellectual disability. She is being bullied because she has hesitant speech. It takes her a few moments, sometimes between words, for her to gather her thoughts and then get them out. It's not a real problem for her, but it can be irritating to others. One of the women that she meets at Bingo sometimes makes a big deal about not wanting to sit next to her because she talks like a 'r-word' and the fuss that this woman creates is really hurtful to his client. What should he or she do?

"Well, first," I said, "everyone needs to realize that her speech isn't irritating. Her speech is her speech." I wanted to begin there because I so often hear that someone is being bullied and then there is a 'sort of excuse' given to the bully because the person is described as 'a little annoying' or 'can be a bit pushy' or 'really is fat' or 'does dress kind of provocatively.' All that has to stop. It's blaming the victim and excusing or giving a rational to a behaviour that is simply unacceptable under any circumstances. Teasing and bullying are forms of violence. Period. No excuse. No reason. Violence.

Then the fellow jumped in to say, "I should have said that the bully is another person an intellectual disability."



And that should make a difference to my response?

"What difference does that make?" I asked.

"I just thought you should know?" he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Well, my agency supports both women," he said.

"Do you think that causes a conflict of interest?" I asked.

"Yeah, well, maybe, I'm not sure," he said. I could tell he wished he hadn't asked the question.

"Have you been aware of this for some time?"

"Yes, it's been going on a long time?"

"And what have you done?"

"We've talked to both of them?"

"And what have you said?"

"We told the woman being teased that she should ignore the other woman and we told the other woman that she shouldn't tease others."

"Did it work?"


By then he was out of time and had to go, I gave him my email and asked him to write me so we could finish the discussion, he said he would, and he did, and he's given me permission to write about our first encounter.

I wanted to write about this, however, because I worry that we care about bullying and teasing differently when it's done by a staff, a community member or some other non disabled person than we do when it's done by a person's peer within an organization. Then, it's often just not taken as seriously as it should be or there's a 'well what can we do about it?' attitude. Other times I hear people talk about the bully with compassion - telling their story and how hard they've had it, as if that explains lack of action on the part of the supporting agency.

I don't like that people have had it tough but I don't think that gives them an excuse to harm or perpetrate acts of social or physical violence on another.

Disability is many things but ...

Disability isn't an excuse.


Unknown said...

This is such a relevant topic. I see a lot of discrimination and abuse among the disability community. It has improved over the years but it is still an issue. Unless you have close relationships with the people involved it is not easy to see and many would prefer not to see the ugliness within the community..."Not those people, they are so sweet." My a** any group can have a bully

Anne Crawford-Clarke said...

I have seen this with many of the people that I've supported over the years, and sometimes it appears to be a preference that they would rather associate with staff, which I assume is rather like the kids who like to walk with the teacher who's on yard duty at school, to flat out discrimination on anyone who is 'lower functioning' than they are, and it just proves who judgmental humans can be. That trait isn't restricted to the 'general' population.

ABEhrhardt said...

If you live with a group of people, there is where your interactions will be, and there will be a pecking order. We have to work against the bad parts of that all the time.

But it sours any community.

One person bullying another isn't okay.

I'm sure it's far worse when there are people who feel they are in charge of other people. I hope to hear more about your topic.

Unknown said...

As others have noted, the 'pecking order' seems to develop in groups of humans just about all the time...and in a group of persons with disability and support staff, the power differential that both sides perceive intensifies this ranking, in many groups.
I think it is the prejudice of low expectations - that those with intellectual disabilities are not capable of learning to be functioning adults - that often prevents disabled adults from being able to take part in society. The adult man who threatened to tell his mother whom you mentioned in an earlier post is an example. And not helping a disabled adult learn that socially inappropriate behaviors are just that, keeps that person in the 'different' role that is inevitably really 'different and less than' me/us. Creating a target for other bullies.