Friday, February 10, 2012

They Ruint my Breakfast!

The reactions I received when people heard I worked at Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC) were interesting.  When paying a breakfast bill with a restaurant clerk, she asked me where I worked, and before I could finish saying “Wendell Foster’s Campus,” she drew a sharp breath in and quickly said, “Oh.”  I started explaining where it was and she interrupted, “I know where it is.”  I smiled and left, baffled by the exchange.  I have no idea what the restaurant clerk’s reaction was about but I’d experience other similar types of responses.  I finally decided the next time it happened, I’d seize the opportunity to learn more by politely saying “that’s an interesting reaction.”  Some will explain themselves and others won’t.  Either way, I’d bring it to their attention, because ignoring it wasn’t addressing it.

In employee training, we are told people may speak or act rudely towards us when out in public with our WFC peeps, and we mustn’t react or respond in an adverse manner.  We represent WFC and negatively reacting to such disrespectful behavior reflects on the Campus and its excellent reputation.  So, when talking to an acquaintance about what I do, he proceeded to tell me “some of those people ruint his breakfast” one morning while dining at a local restaurant called The Eight Ball.  I took a deep breath and silently listened to him explain how he was enjoying breakfast and a group of “them” were eating there.  He said in watching them, he could barely “stomach” his meal.  While I admired the man’s honesty in expressing how he felt, an inner alarm sounded “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” as the dictate from training registered in my brain!

I took another deep breath to anchor in “The Three C’s”:  Cool, Calm and Collected.  I acknowledged his reaction, then explained how sometimes people who aren’t around babies a lot (a.k.a. unfamiliar) will feel uncomfortable when one is in their company.  I explained his reaction was no different, and his unfamiliarity with the physical characteristics of those with developmental disabilities made him feel uncomfortable, not the people themselves.  I continued, gently reminding him these folks have a right to enjoy a meal wherever they want, and the Eight Ball was a favorite spot of theirs.  My acquaintance quickly agreed, admitting “You’re right, you’re absolutely right, and I know it’s my problem.  It’s my problem for feeling that way” to which I said, perhaps a little too exuberantly, “Thank you! I appreciate you saying that because it is.  The conversation quickly shifted and the matter was dropped.

Some might say they don’t waste their time dealing with insensitive people who “diss” individuals with disabilities. I challenge this choice because when a teaching moment presents itself, why wouldn’t you, wouldn’t anyone with compassion for those with disabilities take advantage of the opportunity to educate someone and raise their awareness in how they perpetuate discrimination and a stereotype?  Depending on the appropriateness of the situation, anyone can calmly and politely address these shows of disrespect to facilitate an understanding of the challenges and needs of those with developmental disabilities.  Diplomacy and respect is a must; you get more flies with honey than with vinegar, and it’s not always easy if your blood is boiling in response to another’s insensitive remark.  We must be willing to raise awareness when golden opportunities are presented, such as the one with my acquaintance.  Doing so is instrumental in changing how people treat and view individuals with developmental disabilities.

I choose knowledge, not ignorance; I want to understand, so I ask questions and engage dialogue.  Judging something of which you have no firsthand knowledge perpetuates misunderstanding, false beliefs, and discrimination. Yes, it is easier to ignore other people’s ignorance, callous words and behaviors; however, to ignore it, to pretend it doesn’t exist in fact perpetuates its continuation.

Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. had chosen the EASY button.  Or Abraham Lincoln.  Or Susan B. Anthony.  Or Harvey Milk.  Or Jesus Christ and his apostles.  Thankfully, they didn’t.

In the Next Blog Entry:  Why Won't You Talk to Me? - I actually believed I needn’t interact too much with these individuals.  HA!  Any attempt to distance myself would fail for three reasons . . . .”

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1 comment:

  1. As a parent of an adult disabled young woman, I appreciate those asking about her condition, or interacting in any way. It, at least,shows interest, and doesn't just ignore a disabled person in a wheelchair. Being ignored, somehow, is worse than being verbal. even if the verbal exchange is negative. Being ignored is as if one doesn't even exist, and that is the absolute worst form of treatment from another human being. You are so right about using the exchange as a teaching moment.

    We are all ignorant, only on different subjects.