Manda was a woman with Down Syndrome who I met years and years ago. If you read her file it would have said something like, "She was a lovely, kind and patient woman who enjoyed being included in conversations, being 'one of the crowd' with family and friends and being listened to when she spoke in her low growl of a voice." That being included in conversation, hanging with her friends and being listened to was seen as something to describe her, not every single person alive, it a big tell about how people with intellectual disabilities were seen back then.
She and I along with two others, were scheduled to walk up to a corner store, buy some snacks for the program and then walked back. This counted as both an outing and teaching about money. What it was was a walk. Manda was happy on the walk because one of her best friends, a much older woman with Down Syndrome was part of the group. She liked and admired her. They walked together chatting behind me. I had violated the 'you must walk behind them so they are in sight at all times' rule. I'd done this walk before, I could hear them behind me, I felt that every now and then a bit of privacy might be nice.
We got to the store and when we came in there were two other customers in the store, a boy and a girl, both in their late teens. They began snickering right away. They pointed at them and whispered jokes that they both found very funny. They were standing at the head of an aisle blocking the passageway. When Manda's friend tried to get by them, the boy said, "Say please you little retard," she started to cry. Manda walked quickly over to her friend to comfort her. She stopped for just a second as she walked by the boy who had said the foul word and who had spoken both with superiority and disdain she smiled at him and said something he couldn't hear. Her voice had always been a quiet one.
He leaned down to her to hear what she was saying, laughing all the while. When he was near enough she wound up and slapped him hard across his face. He screamed in shock, HEY! But he screamed to her back she was with her friend and she was comforting her.
His girlfriend turned to me and said, "Aren't you going to do something?" I said that I wasn't going to do anything. Not at all. "Isn't he going to do something?" I asked, when they looked blank I said, "Apologize."
I was told to Fuck off in a number of different ways.
Back in those days I knew little about the disability movement, about people fighting for freedom and access. I had never heard of an International Day of Disabled Persons. I was young. Very young.
Even all these years later, I remember this moment. The moment when a slap awoke in me the first understanding of rebellion against prejudice. It revealed to me that people with intellectual disabilities feel the actions of others and that words and attitudes can be as destructive as any other form of violence.
While this day, International Day of Disabled Person is tagged on the calendar today, it isn't limited to or by a time and date. It happens every time an action is taken that effects even a small part of the world around us. We to see that every day, every opportunity we have to make change, to fight prejudice, to actualize anyway we are part of an international movement. We are not alone.
The theme of this year's day includes the words 'leave no one behind.'
We watch out for each other, across the disability spectrum, ensuring that we all, like Manda, stand up for our friends, stand up to bullies, and strike a blow for respect and dignity.
On the way back to the program Manda asked me, "Are you going to tell?"
"Not today, and to no one here," I said.
She patted my arm.
In that moment, I was no longer staff, I was co-conspirator, and God that felt good.
Love the path it started you on. And love the fact you can remember and realize the steps taken. Hope Manda had lots of friends and supporters in her life.
It is always interesting to look back and see how early experiences ripple outward over our lives...this sounds like a moment that might have moved you onto the path of advocacy/action for those with intellectual disabilities and their right to live fully human lives.
Brava to strong women everywhere...everyday!!
They give hope to those who have not yet found their own voices.
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