As a blogger, sometimes I feel like I talk the talk rather than walk the walk. It’s one thing to tell the world from the safety and comfort of my couch about respect for people with disabilities and it’s another thing entirely to tell it to someone’s face. I’ve written before about my difficulty in finding the right words when people use inappropriate language but I’m bigger and uglier now. Today I decided to step up.
I took Wade to the park to feed the ducks, today. I’ve been so proud of him lately. His communication and comprehension has been coming along in leaps and bounds since I’ve been home more and we have started using more sign language. We got out of the car and wandered over to the lake with our bread in hand. I was telling him about the ducks and he his signing “duck” all the way along the path as well as waving to every passer-by. After watching the ducks peck around his feet and listening to the sweet sounds of him trying to say “quack quack!”, we headed over to the play equipment. It’s such a great park because the designers have included many features for kids with disabilities. There are sensory areas and sign posts with the names of objects including the sign language and Braille. The swing area has a bucket swing for babies but it also has a full body chair swing with a harness for kids who need support of their whole body to enjoy it. I particularly like the slides as there is no ladder to climb. The slides go down a steep hill and the kids climb the hill to get to top.
Brimming over with pride I spent ages watching Wade scramble and scrabble up the hill to the top of the slide then get himself up to the top and sit down. He couldn’t quite work out how to shuffle his little bum off the edge so I helped him and then he went down the slide all by himself. He got to the bottom and signed “more” so I turned him around and told him to climb up. Up again he went then wandered off when he got to the top. He walked over to a guy to say hi and look at his shoes then stood next to a bush and experimented with stepping into the shade, then in to the light, then into the shade again. He let the bush brush past his hands to see what it felt like then wandered back to the top of the slide again. I was lost in the moment as I watched him looking out at all the people in the park and wondering what he was thinking about….
….then from behind me I hear “That’s the retarded swing for people like you!!”
I spun around and saw a group of 20 year olds on and around the swing set. One girl had sat in the full body swing seat and they were all laughing and joking.
“Get a photo of her on the retarded swing!” so they got their phones out and took a video.
My stomach sank. Instead of feeling giddy with joy at all the new and wonderful things my amazing boy has been working his guts out to achieve, now my mind was full of whether I was wasting my time because people will never see them as achievements anyway. The baby seat swing became available and I went over wondering if I should say anything, how would I say it? and what did I want to say? I mulled it over in my mind for ages, ignoring Wade as he giggled and delighted in swinging backwards and forward. I thought about how annoyed I was while Wade pointed at the full body swing and signed that he wanted to go on that one. Once I realised that I was missing the joy from time spent with Wade because of a shitty comment I decided I had to say something.
I picked Wade up and perched him on my hip. I walked up to the girl who was with 3 others.
“Hi, I wondered if I could talk to you about something I overheard you say earlier?”
“I heard you talk about your friend being on the ‘retarded’ swing because she is like ‘them'”
“It was a joke but anyway…”
“I’m going to be polite and calm about it but I wanted to let you know what it means when you use language like that. This is my son, Wade, and he has Down syndrome. When you say things like that, it says to me that no matter what I do, my son will never be accepted.”
I didn’t intend to… or want to cry…but I did. My face was hot and I got flustered. I wanted to tell her all about how much people with disabilities are capable of and have a discussion about whether what I had to say meant anything to her. I wanted to say lots of things but I was too emotional. In any case, the look on her face said it all. She was mortified. I’m sure she was wishing the ground would open up and swallow her whole. Her friend went to comfort me but I stopped her and said that was all I had to say and then we walked off.
I looked over at the group as we left the park and saw them huddled together, no doubt discussing what had just happened. I don’t know whether saying something will make a difference to them or not. It certainly made a difference to me. I now know that I can speak up for Wade and teach him how to speak up for himself too.
I’m starting to realise that it is more important just to find my voice than to find the “right” words.