It happened that I ran into someone who recognized me and in the midst of an ‘Oh, hi’ kind of interaction that the fellow thought that maybe I would have time for a quick question. I did have time and I like quick questions. I like to stay nimble on my mental feet so I told him to go ahead.
He told me that he was working with someone with an intellectual disability. She is being bullied because she has hesitant speech. It takes her a few moments, sometimes between words, for her to gather her thoughts and then get them out. It’s not a real problem for her, but it can be irritating to others. One of the women that she meets at Bingo sometimes makes a big deal about not wanting to sit next to her because she talks like a ‘r-word’ and the fuss that this woman creates is really hurtful to his client. What should he or she do?
“Well, first,” I said, “everyone needs to realize that her speech isn’t irritating. Her speech is her speech.” I wanted to begin there because I so often hear that someone is being bullied and then there is a ‘sort of excuse’ given to the bully because the person is described as ‘a little annoying’ or ‘can be a bit pushy’ or ‘really is fat’ or ‘does dress kind of provocatively.’ All that has to stop. It’s blaming the victim and excusing or giving a rational to a behaviour that is simply unacceptable under any circumstances. Teasing and bullying are forms of violence. Period. No excuse. No reason. Violence.
Then the fellow jumped in to say, “I should have said that the bully is another person an intellectual disability.”
And that should make a difference to my response?
“What difference does that make?” I asked.
“I just thought you should know?” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, my agency supports both women,” he said.
“Do you think that causes a conflict of interest?” I asked.
“Yeah, well, maybe, I’m not sure,” he said. I could tell he wished he hadn’t asked the question.
“Have you been aware of this for some time?”
“Yes, it’s been going on a long time?”
“And what have you done?”
“We’ve talked to both of them?”
“And what have you said?”
“We told the woman being teased that she should ignore the other woman and we told the other woman that she shouldn’t tease others.”
“Did it work?”
By then he was out of time and had to go, I gave him my email and asked him to write me so we could finish the discussion, he said he would, and he did, and he’s given me permission to write about our first encounter.
I wanted to write about this, however, because I worry that we care about bullying and teasing differently when it’s done by a staff, a community member or some other non disabled person than we do when it’s done by a person’s peer within an organization. Then, it’s often just not taken as seriously as it should be or there’s a ‘well what can we do about it?’ attitude. Other times I hear people talk about the bully with compassion – telling their story and how hard they’ve had it, as if that explains lack of action on the part of the supporting agency.
I don’t like that people have had it tough but I don’t think that gives them an excuse to harm or perpetrate acts of social or physical violence on another.
Disability is many things but …
Disability isn’t an excuse.