Sunday, November 18, 2012

People With Disabilities Understand a Lot More Than Some Would Think

I was not going to post again tonight but  I have to get on a favourite hobby horse of mine. I was at a function and had the most uncomfortable few minutes where I was itching to say something biting and sarcastic, but kept minding my manners as it was not the right time or place to do so. A woman at the function was extremely rude and tactless to a friend's daughter and for that matter to the mother herself.
We all know that there are people who are born different in the world. Some are more different than others. They may have Aspergers, Down's Syndrome or Cerebal Palsy or they may be a quadriplegic through some accident or have another challenge like deafness or blindness or even Dementia. The fact that these people do not or are unable to respond in social situations as clearly and coherently as most of us does not make them unintelligent or unfeeling as lumps of wood.

My friend was sitting beside me with her child who has had a rather more challenging life than many of us. This woman's child is a special human being whom I feel is on a very high spiritual level. She has the most generous and giving spirit of any person I have ever met. There is not an ounce of malice or bitterness in this child. The woman who was sitting opposite us, started to stare at my friend's daughter. She then began to actually ask her mother personal questions about her medical conditions with the object of her questioning sitting directly opposite her. She did not address any of her questions to the daughter, but simply spoke to the mother who was also getting distinctly uncomfortable and trying to field some of these rather searching questions tactfully and respectfully, despite the fact that it really was none of her business. Yes, this girl has some disability issues, but that does not make her less able to comprehend conversations. She is not an object. She is a human being. She did not talk to her. She talked to her mother as if she was not present and or as if she would have no idea what the conversation is about.  She is only too aware. I was so gob smacked by what was being said to the mother that I was speechless. I looked across at the girl to see how she was reacting, concerned for her feelings. She has by this time in her life developed a stoicism to certain things and I guess this is one of them.
For example, she said to the mother, 'does that girl belong to you?' Not 'Is this your daughter?' and 'Gee, is there something wrong with her eyes? They seem kind of strange.' I found it hard to believe what I was hearing and I could feel and see enormous restraint being practiced by the mother who did not wish to make a scene at this function and also not to further embarrass her daughter. It was actually quite strange that someone could be so tactless and mindless of the feelings of the girl and her mother and the rest of us who had to witness the bad manners of this woman.

We need to respect those who may not have our knowledge and our understanding of a topic and allow them to develop. We need to listen and to feel what the other person feels. Apart from that personally I feel it  is a privilege to teach someone with Down's Syndrome or Aspergers or Autism or Cerebral Palsy because they will end up teaching you so much more than you will ever teach them. The fact that some people will see them as lessor human beings or flawed human beings shows how little they really know. A person with a disability teaches you about absolute unconditional love and compassion for others. They have compassion on us lessor human beings who do not understand how much they understand and see through us and our little arrogant mindsets.
If we make fun of a person with a disability we are making fun of ourselves, we are bringing ourselves down. We are showing what shallow helpless human beings we are. We cannot cope with them. They cope with us and they understand all too well. They understand just how limited we so called 'normal people' are.
I first observed this sort of phenomena of people from migrant backgrounds being yelled at because the person talking to them thought they could not understand and that if they raised their voice they would understand. If a person has limited English vocab, it does not help to yell at them. They may be Russian with a PHD in nuclear physics and definitely not stupid, but they probably feel it when people raise their voices and yell simple sentences at them. The same thing when people talk to a person with disabilities. They are often yelled at because people think the louder they talk, the' better'  the person with the disability will 'understand them'.
Talk normally and clearly. Then wait for a response, don't barge over them and assume they do not understand. Talk to them with respect and don't talk about them as if they are not present, despite the fact that they are sitting opposite you.
 Their responses to your questions may be slower because they are struggling to arrange a response in the appropriate way that they think you will understand. Maybe you needed to rephrase your question or you were not clear. They may have things to say that will blow the socks off you. People often ignore someone with disabilities and in social situations they will talk to those around them but ignore the very real human being sitting in front of them.
Give them validation and acknowledgement like you would give any other human being. Ask them how they are and listen to what they have to say. Show your humanness and drop the idea that they are unable to or cannot communicate with you. Connect with them. Be surprised, amazed and connected to some very wonderful human beings who are a little different, but valuable and gorgeous human beings.

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