Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Restoring Faith in Humanity

Having been the parent, of a child with a disability, for more than 3 years now, I've learnt to roll with the punches most of the time; to ignore the stares and ignorant comments, and to hold my head high even when it hurts. I've got to the point where, the majority of the time, I can switch off to those things and look positively into the future. However, this week I have been shaken to the core, and allowed anxiety and helplessness to creep into my heart and mind because of a single word on a tshirt.
Bigger horse this time

As many of you would have already read/heard via the media, a local store in our capital city of Adelaide had, displayed in their shop window, a shirt with the word 'RETARDE' in big, black writing. A lovely local lady, who has sadly lost her precious son (who had a disability), walked into the store, when she saw this
offensive shirt, and asked for it to be removed because it offended her and would offend others. Quite a reasonable request, one would think. Any understanding, compassionate person would apologise for the offense and remove the shirt from sale, citing an oversight at the pain it could cause people in the community with an intellectual disability, and their families.

What followed was a media frenzy. The manager of the store praised the two 'designers' who created the slogan, and refused to stop selling the offending shirt. He insisted it was a French word (although written without the symbol above the 'e') and meant to 'slow down'. Interestingly, I have heard from several French people since, who claim the word is often used offensively in their culture. The manager, in a radio interview, was quoted as saying, "You need to stop mollycoddling your children and get them to toughen up." Really? For starters, of course we would say to our children "Try to ignore people who call you a retard", but it doesn't mean it won't hurt, and to have it emblazoned across a shirt is insensitivity at its worst. He obviously has no comprehension of what it is like to live with an intellectual disability or to love someone with one.
Working hard at hydrotherapy

I have an adorable 3 year old, with Down syndrome, and every time we go out there are people who point, stare, elbow each other and whisper. Thankfully, he isn't old enough to notice that yet, but I'm sure there will come a time when he will. Yes, I will teach him to ignore people's comments and to look the other way if they are mocking him or being rude. I'll probably even teach him some 'come-backs', but that doesn't make it right for people to be able to ridicule him for their own pathetic entertainment. That's exactly what these shirts do. They have no positive value and have no place in today's supposed 'open-minded' and 'accepting' community.
Body painting?

The thing which upset me the most was reading the comments from people, supportive of the sale of these shirts. It was like a knife to my stomach to read the awful things written about people with intellectual disabilities, and the lack of support or concern shown by those writing in. I wonder if they would proudly wear the, equally offensive, words 'N**ger' or 'F**got' across their chest? Or would they somehow feel differently about those words? It frightened me to realise that there are still hundreds of people out there who think the word 'retard' is, not only OK, but funny enough to put on a shirt and walk around wearing it. It left me discouraged about the state of the world, and concerned for Felix's future.

Helping decorate the tree
Thankfully, after a couple of days of soul-searching, my faith in humanity has been somewhat restored. We received a message from a friend, telling us they had deleted someone from Facebook because of their comments regarding the tshirt. They don't have a personal relationship with anyone with an intellectual disability, but felt strongly enough (out of support for us), to take a stand. Several others; some of who are still working on eliminating the word 'retard' from their own vocabulary, showed their support by comments they made on news stories/Facebook or by sharing links supporting those with disabilities. I really appreciate that a lot of people I know, have stopped to reconsider the words they use and the effect they have on others. Thank you to all of you. I know that none of us are perfect, and we are all guilty of saying things without thinking sometimes, but the fact that this situation has made some people stop and think is a positive.

Next time you're about to use a racial slur, the words 'gay', 'fat', 'retarded' or 'spastic', or even just a criticism about someone because you don't like the way they look or act; STOP and think before you speak. Be thankful for the diverse world we live in. Be glad we're not all exactly the same. Give that person a chance.... who knows? They could be influential in changing your life for the better!

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