Image description: A poster with the words: IF I CAN’T DANCE IS IT STILL MY REVOLUTION? and a graphic of the wheelchair symbol holding up a middle finger

Sometimes you just fall into the wrong conversation, don’t you. Joe and I were having a cuppa tea at our local spot and I was telling him about the fact that I’m writing a short summation about poverty and disability with particular emphasis on intellectual disability. We were a few moments into the conversation when a woman, sitting at the next table, asked if I had said that I was writing something about poverty. I said that I was. She introduced herself as a poverty advocate. (I didn’t say that I would think that people would advocate against poverty – I’ve never understood putting those two words together.)

The conversation was interesting for a short while and then it became really strange. As she came to realize that my emphasis was on people with intellectual disabilities, and as she came to understand what that term meant, her interest began to immediately wane. She actually said that at least poverty didn’t effect ‘those people’ in the same way as ‘regular people’ because they are happy just with the simple things. They don’t realize their poverty in the same way. I don’t like any conversation that involves the terms ‘those people’ and ‘regular people’ so it was hard to keep my calm. I asked her if she was suggesting that God made a people perfectly adapted to a life of poverty? She said, “No, but I always think of them smiling and happy, never as poor and wretched.” I had to end the conversation. She didn’t understand why, I was too angry to explain. I am not always perfectly suited to teach.

It strikes me though how easily people with intellectual disabilities are exempted from the discussion. The belief that they, as a people do not experience issues regarding:


They are just happy to live life.


They don’t understand, poor dears.


They don’t feel pain the way we do.


They cope so well with rape and battery don’t they?

The exclusion of people with disabilities from discussions regarding any of these issues is done, in the minds of others, for their own good. They don’t need to be at the table – it would just upset them. While all re research suggests that people with intellectual disabilities have a peculiar claim on all these issues, they are virtually ignored when discussing them and, as a result, are often at the bottom of the priority list for responding. What’s the peculiar claim? They experience all of these things at a higher rate than any other group.

But why would we talk about that?

Isn’t it better to just post a picture of someone with Down Syndrome on Facebook and have people write AMEN if they just love the smiling face in the picture?

Action that is inaction and action that perpetuates inaction shouldn’t be tolerated. The issues that people with intellectual disabilities face, the very real social issues, need to be discussed. Because those ‘AMEN faces’ are going to face violence and discrimination and poverty, and they are going to do it in a cocoon of silence because apparently God made a people perfectly suited to a disrespected life.

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