"He has Down Syndrome."
"Oh, I see."
It seems that often, once you say, "Down Syndrome" an entire image is supposed to form in your mind. Like you've learned the most important thing about someone and now have a pretty good idea of who they are. I just finished reading a book wherein you find out near the end that one of the main characters had a child with Down Syndrome and, at that point the author expects us to 'understand' something about that character because of how he reacts to the child. It's an easy ploy, a way to telegraph something about that charater to us.
But it doesn't work.
People with Down Syndrome have as much variation, one from the other, as any other two people do. Some drive, some walk. Some talk, some struggle. Some smile, some cry. Some are skilled, some need lots of help. People don't wear Down Syndrome like a tailored suit - one size fits all. I made a comment about this to Joe, telling him I liked the book but thought that the inclusion of Down Syndrome that way was a cheap trick.
Joe nodded, like he does when I'm on a tanget.
"What? No What?" I pressed him.
"You do the same. You always write about people with Down Syndrome like that guy who we saw drive the car, you don't much write about guys with Down Syndrome like the guy who always waves us off at your office. If people only knew about Down Sydrome from your blog, they'd be surprised to find ... what was your word ... variation."
"Why do I even have these conversations with you, you just don't get it!!"
We let it drop. The weather is extremely hot. We don't have air conditioning. The radio said either avoid heat or avoid conflict - everyone is edgy. So, I let it drop.
Then Joe picked me up from work and I saw the guy he was talking about. He's got Down Syndrome and though when he waves us off he has a ready smile and wave, he doesn't have that joie-d'vivre that othes with Down Syndrome are purported to have. His face looks purpetually startled, like he's constantly discovering something vaguely unpleasant about life. If he met the seven dwaves it would be 'grumpy' that he had a beer with. Or, so that's my impression.
It's also my impression that he has a whole life, goes to a day programme, is involved in the community. But he ain't ever going to drive a car. He's not going to hold down much of a job. If you are looking for someone with Down Syndrome to make your day brighter like a smiling Buddah, you're looking in the wrong place.
I wonder why people, and writers like me and the other guy, use people with Down Syndrome in ways that both break stereotype by encouraging stereotyping. Why is there a burden put on someone with a disability to 'rise up and above' their disability? Why can't someone just go about having Down Syndrome without having to brighten the world for others? Why does someone already carrying the weight of disability also have to be lumbered with the job of inspiration? This guy just goes about his day. Does what's required of him. Smiles only when he wants to. Grumbles when something goes wrong.
There were seven different Dwarfs but we want only one picture of disability.
Lights. Camera. Inspire!