Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Self Serve

(photo description: reproduction of a magazine cover of the Australian publication of Voice, a publication of Down Syndrome NSW, featuring a picture of a young woman with Down Syndrome)

A waiter defends a boy with Down Syndrome in a restaurant in Houston and the world goes wild!!

I have no wish to, in any way, detract from what Michael Garcia did and I fully acknowledge that I fist pumped the air when I heard the story. We need to have "good news" stories every now and then and this fit the bill. Someone recognised and stood up to prejudice as expressed to a little boy with a disability.


There's always a 'but' isn't there?

In discussing the story, all over the media, people are constantly saying that he stood up for someone who couldn't stand up for himself.

And that's true.

Because the boy was a 5 year old.

Not because ...

I say ... NOT ... because he has Down Syndrome.

However, whenever I hear about the kids vulnerability it is clear that they are talking about his disability not his age. This fervour that the media, and sometimes even families and support people, have for presenting people with intellectual disabilities as being 'unable to speak for themselves,' or 'unable to defend themselves,' or 'unable to fight their own battles,' is harmful. The message to predators and to the public is that people with intellectual disabilities generally and people with Down Syndrome specifically are, voiceless, spineless, vulnerable people forever in need of heroes.

This is not true.

We need to fight this stereotype almost more than any other. It gives the 'go ahead' to bullies and brutes to target those who only need to be alone, only need to be without accompaniment in order to be perfect victims. People with Down Syndrome, and indeed all people with intellectual disabilities, can benefit from abuse prevention training. While it is true that the more significant the disability the more likely the abuse, it is also true that even those with really significant disabilities can learn from an abuse prevention class appropriately targeted. All people with disabilities, even those who don't speak, can find their voice and their power.

If we leave young Milo Castillo, the five year old in the restaurant, in constant need of an 'other' a 'hero,' a 'saviour' then he will always be at the mercy of another person's courage and another person's kindness. And people aren't always courageous enough to be kind.

The Australian publication, Voice, is perfectly named. It ensures that we understand that people with Down Syndrome have their own voices, their own stories and are their own best self advocates. This is not a view that is, yet, universally accepted or understood. It needs to be.

Abuse prevention training.

Bullying strategies and awareness.

I've taught these classes to thousands of people with disabilities over the years.

In those classes we teach people with disabilities about a body part that remains controversial to this very day.

The backbone.

In those classes we teach people with disabilities about a tool that they have at their ready disposal.

The voice.

It's clear that Michael has them both.

Let's hope that Milo will too.


Rickismom said...

good point. Training is necessary though, and hard for parents tp teach. Ricki stood up for herself BUT when an adult was involved she would often believe them. When I sent her to buy stuff on her own, I occaisionally asked the owners (by phone) to try and give her LESS change, but she never caught it.

Tamara said...

Good message.

In this situation, even if Milo was old enough to stand up for himself, I don't think he could have. The man with the issue didn't make his detestable remark so that Milo's family heard - just the waiter.

So - why even say that he couldn't? Doesn't make sense.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I think I get your point. We assume that people cannot stand up for themselves because they have a disability. We do make that assumption.

So in this case, the remark was made to the waiter, as I understand it. He is the appropriate person to address the prejudice. But I think what you are saying is that the commentary is ascribing a helplessness to people with disabilities that they do not possess and that this stereotyping makes them more vulnerable to predators. I totally agree!

Thanks for another thought provoking post!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hi all,

yes Colleen, my concern is NOT what the waiter did - good on him. In that situation he was the appropriate person. I'm referring to people referring to people with disabilities as defenceless. I've seen this in many commentaries.