As with much of my life, I didn't understand what had happened until it was over. I should have too because I'd been set up to 'get it'. I was finishing my Christmas shopping for family on the West Coast yesterday, something I need to do because I'm in England and Scotland for the whole month of November. Driving down a steep ramp I heard a couple of women use the word 'retard'. I couldn't stop to hand out one of the words hit cards, but I also couldn't stop myself from speaking out. I called to them 'Retard is such a ugly word to say.' They glanced at me with hostility and I tried to smile gracefully back.
So, I had been reminded, prompted, that the world can be unkind and unsafe for people with developmental disabilities. Too, Manuela (my boss at Vita) and I had spent nearly 3 hours with people from another agency wanting to learn what steps we had taken, as an agency, to confront abuse and to make the valient attempt at becoming abuse free. We spoke of how people with disabilities are tricked, manipulated and abused. That people will use thier disabilities against them, about how ugly that concept is. So I should have noticed.
Heres what happened:
I stopped at a shop that had something I wanted to get for my mother. They had a variety of them but the only one I liked was the one on display. I liked the vibrancy of the red and the deepness of the black, I thought it was perfect. The fellow came out of the store and I told him that I wanted the one on display. He picked one from the rack and said 'This one is the same.' I looked at it, it had a different red, a different black and a different pattern. I said, 'No, that's not the same.' His voice became firm, 'It is exactly the same.' I said, just noticing, 'It has leopards on it, this one does not.'
He then reluctantly took down the one that I wanted. On our way out of the store he said, 'Your mind is sharp, then. It's just your body ...' I looked at him, at that point, with anger. What a thing to say. I thought, at that moment, that my blog point was going to be about his inappropriate and insensitive comment. But when I got home I realized that what he had done.
First, he had assumed that I had an intellectual as well as a physical disability. Second, he thought, because of that disability, he could trick me into buying something I didn't want. Thirdly, he tried to bully me into taking something I didn't want, expecting that I would not have the mental resolve to stand up to him. Fourthly, he was entirely comfortable with tricking, swindling, someone with an intellectual disability.
How different is 'I want this one.' 'No, you want that one.' from 'I don't want sex.' 'You do want sex.' from 'I don't want peas. 'You do want peas.' from 'Don't hit me' 'I didn't hit you.' from 'I want to buy a candy bar.' 'You want to buy me a candy bar.' .... It's all the same.
The job is big. Bigger than we may expect. If we are going to continue with the goal of community living, we'd better figure out the skills necessary for community living ... First thing I'm back at work I'm going to review our curriculums for teaching. I want to make sure that we teach people that there are people out there who run shops that see you as a victim, not as a customer.