What had happened was pretty simple. It’s something we’ve all experienced but I’ll bet that it happens with more frequency and with open intent to people with disabilities. He was standing in line, he was aware of the stares and the curiosity his very presence caused. Being disabled in public is always cause for bored eyes to light up and to burn a hole into out self worth. He had Williams Syndrome, for those of you who want to know, but any difference would do. A fellow, the suit and tie type, stepped in front of him when he was clearly next to be served.
He spoke up. (Good for him.) He protested. (Good for him.) He recognized that he had a right to his place in line and a right to be served when it was his turn. (Good for him.) He said, “Hey, it’s my turn.” (Good for him.) The fellow told him to be quiet and wait. (Asshat.) Then the man in line said, with fury, “I’m going to tell my mom on you and you’ll be in big trouble.” (Oh, no.) People burst out laughing. He was instantly humiliated. He left the line up, crying, his hand over his face.
“I’m going to tell my mom on you …” Let’s look at this statement. He’s saying that since he wasn’t listened to and since is simple protest wasn’t enough, he was going to call in his mother who would fight his battle for him. “You’ll be in big trouble …” My mother is a powerful advocate and she will let you know precisely why what you did was wrong and how you discriminated against me.
I think what he said translates into, “My mother is my advocate, she speaks for me, she protects me.”
Right up until he said he was going to report the man to his mother he did really well. He was appropriately assertive. He did what a lot of people, disabled or not, would not have done. He used his voice to protest how he was being treated. So he’s got all the basics covered, he has a solid foundation for being his own advocate and using his own voice to deal with the world as the world deals with him.
He had so many options besides retreat, besides stating that the REAL ADVOCATE would deal with this situation. He didn’t seem to have the skills to take the encounter one step beyond. He had three or four options available to him, all of which he has demonstrated that he could use. But he didn’t.
His skills grew, but then, for some reason, they stopped growing.
“I speak for my child.”
“I am my child’s voice.”
“My job is to advocate for the people in my care.”
I worry more and more and more about the theft of the voices of people with intellectual disabilities by those who, while they have good motives, take what’s not theirs.
And if you don’t like what I’ve said, “I’ll tell my mother on you.”
I’m not saying that to mock the fellow with a disability but to demonstrate how that sounds coming from me. It’s not a strategy, it’s a set up for being teased, ridiculed and maybe even worse.