Tuesday, May 20, 2008


She walked with real purpose. Looking straight ahead. Though she was in a mall, she didn't browse, stop to look at things in the stores or the people flowing around her. She looked like she had a destination and the mall was an obstacle in her path. Forgive me for saying this but even after all these years I sometimes find it really hard to tell how old someone with Down Syndrome is - beyond childhood, teenager, adult that is. I would guess that she may have been thirty. I was waiting out side the dollar store where Joe was in a lineup buying me 4 new pairs of glasses and I was people watching.

Just before she got to me, I saw a woman come up to her and bring her up short with a conversation, the woman with Down Syndrome, looking annoyed, stopped, listened to what the woman had to say, dug in her purse and handed her a card. Then, without waiting for the woman to move out of her way, or saying a single word, she just pushed past and then there she was striding past me.

The woman read the card and then got visibly angry. I heard her mumbling something as she walked away. Joe came out and I said, "Follow that woman" so we meanandered behind her. I hoped, and my hope was rewarded. Finally, about halfway down the mall, she tossed out the card in a trash bin.

I broke away from Joe to go to the bin, when he saw what I was doing - I hadn't had time to explain, when he came out of the store we immediately gave chase - "you aren't rummaging around in the garbage." But by then I'd pulled the lid off and could see that the can had been recently emptied and the card was resting on the bottom. It was a real reach but I got it. I put the lid back on and then realized that I had an audience of at least twenty people, all stopped, all with tears of pity in their eyes.

Screw'em, I got the card.

I tucked it quickly behind me in my bag. Joe was desperate to get out of the mall. We got into the car and he handed me the wheelchair bag right away. I had explained to him on the way what I had seen and why I went into the garbage bin. So, he was curious now too. I held the bag in my lap and waited until he got back in the car after loading our shopping and the chair into the car. I found the note.

And read it. It was the size of a business card and on one side it said:

People with disabilities don't need tolerance, acceptance or pity instead we need equality, opportuntiy and respect.

On the other side it said:

Pick the one that applies to you:

I am not lost and do not need your assistance.

I am not a little child and do not need your help.

I am going somewhere, I am not wandering around.

I do not talk to strangers - you should follow that advice yourself.

There was no sign that this had been printed by an agency, it looked like something you'd get printed up at one of those business stores printing kiosks. I loved it. Still got it. I've decided that I'm going to hand this out the next time I have someone intrude on my life with assistance. I think it is a cool way to deal with it.

I still picture her in the mall walking along with such determination. I'm glad that she has a way of dealing with intrusion but hope that she hasn't lost the joy of the walk because of the regularity of interuption.

But more power to her.

Although she didn't look like she needed much more.


Liz Miller said...

That is awesome.

Ruth said...

Yes, that is awesome.

FAB said...


Becca said...

It really struck me that you asked for forgiveness for not being able to guess the age of someone with Down Syndrome. I have aspergers and I'm faceblind, and between the two I find guessing ages extremely challenging. It's not a character fault or intentional, it's just the way I am. For whatever reason, you have a harder time guessing the ages of people with Down Syndrome. Don't apologize for it. Different is ok, yes?

Anonymous said...

I think I'd like some of those, it beats trying to argue the point.

FridaWrites said...

I'd love to make up some of those cards!! Thanks for sharing.

rickismom said...

What a story! as we used to say in college:
"Power to the" (DS) "People!"
Gee, what an unbelievable idea.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, wonderful story. Thank you!

I am a mother of a 2 year old with Down syndrome and I still can't tell the age of some older people with DS, don't feel bad, lol!

Joey's mom

Unknown said...

This would make a wonderful T-shirt... although a bit wordy!

Loved it!

Veralidaine said...

That's certainly a different "crip card" to play! I like it!

Anonymous said...

love it, love it, love it.


All 4 My Gals said...

So funny because this weekend I saw Tarenne have to deal with this scenario 2 times. (I'll have to take the time to go blog it) Anyhow, I said to Joe last night,
"Let's get her a t-shirt that says, "I'm capable" and then on the back put "Mom and Dad say so!". I can only imagine how hard this will be as she truly gains and deserves her independence. It's hard enough as a child! Thanks for sharing!

Cate said...


(And thanks for going after the card. Definitely worth the effort.)

Anonymous said...

Oh HELL YES!!! I love it!

stevethehydra said...

Very, very awesome. Your description of how she walked raised a smile because that's a perfect description of me walking through any public place... and i get enough frustrating/stressful encounters with people who seem to want to be in my way, then to apologise for being in my way, then to get offended because i didn't use the appropriate facial expression to acknowledge their apology, etc...

I believe Amanda Baggs has blogged about the phenomenon of "walking while developmentally disabled" (she's been stopped by the police and, IIRC, even arrested, simply for walking around her neighbourhood and having an observeable mental disability).

As to guessing ages, while i don't have prosopagnosia, i do find it difficult, so it's possible it's an AS thing. People find it very difficult to guess my age, too. I think it might actually be something that's common to all disabilities or differences (I was with a group of friends, all of whom had different impairments, once and all of us reckoned that people with our particular impairments tended to get regarded as looking younger)...

RADAR said...

Great story. Some non-disabled people hate being helped by disabled people too.

When I was working as a teaching assistant, a substitute teacher was taking the class, and one of the students, an intelligent and well-read young man who happened to have Down Syndrome, was bridling (as was I) at the patronising attitude this new teacher was taking towards him.

One pupil asked why 'knight' was spelled with a k. The teacher said he didn't know. At this point, the lad with down syndrome raised his hand and explained that it was a hang-over from Germanic Old English, and that if the teacher read Chaucer (which his class had studied a couple of weeks before) he would find it pronounced "k-nicht".

The teacher looked absolutely mortified at being helped out by a lad with down syndrome, and didn't even say well done or thank you. The kid leaned over to me and whispered, as teenagers are sometimes inclined to do, "what a dip-shit". I guess I was supposed to discipline him for swearing and being rude about a teacher; frankly, I was just too busy desperately trying not laugh out loud.

He got a well-earned well done and thank you from me after the lesson.

Anonymous said...

Those cards were handed out many years ago by People First - I'm impressed there are still some around as many were taken away because they weren't nice -people are just trying to help -some people just don't get it

Anonymous said...

she's been stopped by the police and, IIRC, even arrested, simply for walking around her neighbourhood and having an observeable mental disability

Not formally arrested, but certainly detained. I haven't been able to safely go for walks by myself in places where cops are likely to be, since I hit my teens. I could use one of those cards.

It's gotten to the point where if someone asks me "Are you okay?" I go home at top speed. Because last time someone did that and I just kept nodding "yes" in response, the guy called the cops anyway, who came and tried to get me to prove I really lived in the apartments I was sitting in front of waiting for someone. Eventually a cop I knew showed up (I'd made a point of introducing myself to the cops and saying "Please don't act like I'm lost or something") so I got out of that one, but I hate to think what would've happened if they hadn't.

Strange thing was one time I actually was in need of assistance (far from home and injured), and the only thing open near me was a police station. I picked up one of their little call phones since there was nobody around that time of night, and whoever was at the other end just kept hanging up on me.