Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Hour Too Late

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.

Self advocacy.
Speaking up.
Self esteem.

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.


Kristin said...

I'm sorry you had to deal with such an idiot. It sucks beyond belief. Yet, I'm glad you were strong enough to stand up for yourself. Maybe, just maybe the lesson he learned will take hold.

Kris Stableford said...

"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." True, daunting and/or inspirational words, Dave!

Heather said...

What an asshole!!

So glad you stood your ground but can't help wondering how many times that trick has worked in his favour.

So many times people seem to think that a wheelchair affects your intellect, eyesight, hearing and can make you invisible too.

I'd like to run my chair over their toes. It might make me just as bad but they wouldn't underestimate me then.

Unknown said...

Your blogs are addictive! Thank you, for everything you do.

Belinda said...

Absolutely one of the best posts I've read because it captures the essence of what happens SO often. I'm forwarding it, printing it off, suggesting it be included in Person Centred Support training and generally appreciating every word. It was good that it happened to someone who could write it down.

Spinningfishwife said...

Hey, you're coming to Scotland? Where are you going to be speaking?

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thanks for this blog. I intend to make my students read it!

I also wanted to tell you that in the last week someone has disclosed to me that a person with an intellectual disability is being abused by staff. The abuse seems to take the form of teasing that goes too far and when the person asks for it to stop, it doesn't.

Now that I know about it, I have to tell. And Dave, you are one of the people who has helped me really get that. I could have mouthed those words before - I have to tell - but you are one of the people who has helped me to know that at the core of my being - in a much deeper way.

So, Dave, if my telling helps this person's stop to mean stop, you have a part in it.

Thanks, Dave

wheeliecrone said...

The thing I naver understand is: How is it that I can spot abuse happening to other people faster than a speeding bullet, but when abuse is happening to me, I don't realise for a little while?
I suppose that it is at least partly because, in my own mind, I'm just an ordinary person who is sitting down.
Oh, wait - I AM just an ordinary person, sitting down!
Yes, clearly, I need more training to recognize and overcome the abuse that stems from the mean-spirited behaviour of some people. Isn't it sad that, while most people are good-hearted and well-meaning, a small proportion of twisted citizens spoil so many things for the rest of us?

Anonymous said...

I and a couple of friends of mine were called rude and it was suspected we were talking maliciously about others at a symposium because the hall was loud, hearing people talked over the speakers (didn't bother to even whisper), and we were trying to figure out what the lecturers were saying and fill in the blanks for one another. Why was this called rude? Because we used sign language (we are all hearing impaired) so as to not add to the noise and inconvenience the hearing people. Our need to hear and function is rude to them even though it has no impact on them what so ever and just to add insult, they assume as a default behavior, that we are being spiteful?? I want to crawl into a hole and die, but this time, we are NOT running away. Still, I feel a hole in my chest.

CJ said...

I wonder how this individual was raised to have no values or ethics.

Arden said...

I am a nursing student. Today in our community nursing work shop I worked with a group comprised for 4 students, 3 community health nurses, and myself. As a part time job I work as a personal care aide to a disabled gentleman. As an example of health promotion I had done in my life I discussed how my client had recently been diagnosed with diabetes and how we were working together to find new meal ideas, and fixes to certain problems. I mentioned that he was a quad, I mentioned that he did not have staff at his home through the day and that because of this he could not eat lunch due to the limited ability he has with his hands, I mentioned that this was our major problem and we were working together to find solutions. One of the nurses said "maybe when you do his shopping you could substitute in healthier food for him." I never mentioned that I did his shopping, because I don't. I informed them that he sometimes gives me a list of things to pick up, but usually I accompany him to the store.

Another nurse suggested that when I prepare his meals I make the portions smaller, or cut down from 5 hot dogs to 2 hot dogs and substitute some healthier food. I never said that I went in and simply made his food, but that he told me what to make and I made it for him, often following his own recipe as he is a rather good cook.

Later in the meeting we were discussing the resources that my client has, and one of the nurses said "his mental health case worker would fit in here." Suddenly it dawned on me. All three of these women, seasoned community health nurses who developed policy and curriculum assumed he was mentally disabled simply because he was physically disabled.

These nurses are entrusted in teaching another generation of health care providers. Luckily the students in my class did not make the same assumption, so there is hope for us yet!