I've been troubled over the last couple of days over an incident that happened at a movie theatre. Joe and I had just purchased tickets to go see 'The Big Sick' and I was rolling away. I hadn't noticed in the line behind me that there were two staff and two people with intellectual disabilities immediately behind me. We'd arrived early and went immediately to the ticket counter, they must have arrived shortly after.
The first thing said, with me still not knowing anything about them, I hadn't seen them, was "We are a little bit late for the Spiderman movie." The ticket guy must have asked how many tickets were wanted and the same voice said, "Two individuals and two staff." Now I know that theatre is part of a program where staff get in free when supporting someone with a disability.
I shuddered at the way the young man spoke even though I'm damn sure he was trained to speak that way and that he worked for an agency proud of the fact that they don't use 'labels.' However, the way that the two people with disabilities going to the theatre were spoken about seemed to be in some kind of 'code' whose purpose seemed to be the masking of shame with words used as a difference denier. In short, it sounded horrible.
Honesty in speech always sound more respectable, listen to, "Two people with disabilities and two support providers." Doesn't that sound better? Doesn't that sound open and honest and proud. Now some of you are thinking he should have said, "Four tickets." Well, the problem is, there are ticket pricing differences based on the need of people with disabilities who have support professionals along with them. This makes going to the movies more accessible by cost.
What would have been amazing, though, would have been if the people with disabilities had spoken, "Two tickets for us and these are our support workers." That kind of leadership in the personal realm is surely our goal.
"Two individuals and two staff." It still bothers me. It demonstrates clearly the lack of power and the presence of privilege that exists in the relationship between those who receive service and those who say they serve. I don't think that young man who spoke should be judged by what he said, I'm sure that he was following policy and that he thought he was not labelling the people he supported.
Sometimes labels are smacked on someones forehead stuck on by the glue of what we do, not what we say. This is one of those times.