When Ruby was a very little girl, just learning to speak. She was here at our place and was playing in the front room. She went into the kitchen and came back carrying a small orange. She sat down on the floor and considered the orange for quite some while. Finally she got up and came over to me, with the orange resting on her palm which she held out towards me.
"Open?" she asked.
There is a fellow that I chat with every now and then on Facebook. He is a man with an intellectual disability. He is incredibly shy. He came, once, to an abuse prevention class that I taught. Somehow he found me on Facebook and a couple clicks later, we're connected. He's had a pretty rough go of it. Slowly he's told me his story, one of teasing and brutal bullying. He hates the 'r word' with a passion, both for the hate that it comes wadded in but also for what accompanied it - slamming into lockers, tripping in hallways, shit being put in his gym shoes. He's had a rough, rough go.
From what I understand of his life he's let it become very, very, small. He goes out very little - he trusts no one in his environment, no one in his neighbourhood. We've talked about this and I think he likes the fact that I don't go in all jolly hockey sticks and encourage him to 'break out' of the life he's made for himself. I've just listened and, mostly, agreed. The world can be cruel and unkind to people with disabilities. He's right about that. My responsibility to him, as a Facebook contact, I believe is to listen and to support and to validate. He's never asked for my encouragement ... until yesterday.
He asked me if I've heard of a self advocate group which is local to his area. I had not so I asked him to give me a second to Google them. I did. I found them. On their site they state, clearly, that they aim to be a safe place, that bullying and teasing are not welcome. I copied that portion of their site and sent it to him. He said that he was going to think about it. Then he asked, "Do you think that I should try going?"
It was his first invitation to give him my opinion. I paused. Opening an orange is one thing, opening a door is another. I told him that I'd been to a lot of self advocacy groups, that I know that they really try to create safe places. Sometimes people with disabilities tease people with disabilities - a sad fact - but that I thought that since the group says that they really try to be safe, and really discourage bullying, he might want to send them an email and tell them that he wants to go but also tell them what he fears. Ask them how seriously they take being a safe place. He thought that was a good idea. I went back to their site and copied their email and sent it to him.
Later in the day he wrote that he'd contacted them and in the end he spoke on the phone with a woman from the group. They shared stories of hurt, she said that she wouldn't be president of an organization where bullying happened. "If you've been bullied, you know," she said.