At times, all to often, everybody’s life can be cruel, unfair and for some, life events unjustified. In one of my previous posts in December ‘Last Day, New Beginnings’ I alluded to how a small proportion of the general public regard and react to those who are visibly different from what is perceived to be ‘normal’. This is especially true for those who have been dealt a cruel twist of fate by suffering from a severe learning disability. Unfortunately, public reactions often materialise in ways that defy logic!
In the very recent past, I was fortunate to support and work with several men who were born with and in some cases develop extremely severe learning disabilities. I remember the very first day I walked into their large, adapted house. I admit I was surprised with how they acted, but not horrified or judgemental. One of the men who I would eventually support and care for, unexpectedly lunged at me and grabbed one of my wrists with both hands, trying with all his strength to pull me towards him. Luckily, I’m physically strong so his efforts came to nothing, in fact, he let go of me, smiled and walked away. My manager at the time informed me I’d have to get used to that sort of behaviour because that’s just the way it was.
During the early days, I discovered that all this gentleman wanted to do was drag me to the kettle to make him a cup of tea. The following months and years were filled with the exact same behaviour. Nothing changed. He wasn’t violent in any way, he just couldn’t communicate in the usual ways. When he was taken out of the house to go shopping, go to the bank or just go for a walk, he would walk alongside me, hold my hand and grin a mostly toothless grin. The only time he would pull away from my hand was when he noticed a piece of rubbish on the pavement or something else blowing in his path, especially if it was an empty polystyrene cup. The thing that I noticed when we were out and about was that some people would cross over the road to avoid walking past us. I found this very strange and extremely rude. I would often notice people pointing at the man who was holding my hand, or maybe they were pointing at me, and talk about us, sometimes bursting into fits of laughter!
When I escorted my gentleman to the G.P. some people would unashamedly get up from their seats and move to the other side of the waiting room. It was as if they thought whatever was wrong with him was infectious! Bloody ridiculous!
It was only a small minority, but nevertheless, it was a ridiculous attitude. I remember one episode when I escorted the same gentleman to a bank in the town centre. I had put some clean jogging bottoms on him before we set off and thought I had tied them up securely. I was wrong! I led him through the door into the bank, holding his hand when he spotted some leaflets neatly stacked up on the counter. He quickly pulled away from me, lunged for the leaflets and proceeded to throw them into the air like confetti! During the process of attempting to prevent him from enjoying himself, his joggers fell to the ground, completely exposing him (Underwear barely covering his arse) to a busy but watching, goggle eyed bank! When I bent down to pull his joggers up he took the opportunity to throw even more leaflets up into the air, laughing with glee as they floated down around my head.
I looked at the bank staff and apologised. One of them couldn’t stifle a laugh but indicated it was no problem. (It was easy for her to say!) However, two members of the public looked shocked and alarmed. An older woman, who must have been strong because she was carrying a giant dead grizzly bear across her shoulders, said “He should never be allowed in here, can’t you control him!” Whilst I was tying his joggers up I looked at her and calmly said, “I think you shouldn’t be Allowed in here, you should go and get yourself an education”. She looked flabbergasted 🤣
The gentleman who I was supporting was oblivious to everything, he merely smiled and clapped his hands, his eyes firmly on the leaflets. As luck would have it, we conveniently jumped the queue and were served at light speed!!
The woman who had complained in the bank was still muttering to her partner, with the bear silently growling, so I took the opportunity to wish her a very good day and left the bank, gently pulling my gentleman away from the tempting leaflets.
Although that incident was amusing, it was a situation that was predictable in a minority of public reaction. The point is, everyone is different, everyone is dealt a different set of life cards and most people have the ability to learn and grow as individuals. However, not everyone is lucky enough to be born without physical and mental disabilities, but everyone deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect and dignity, regardless of what they look like. So to the ignorant woman in the bank ‘Up yours’! And to those who haven’t got the sense or decency to know how to react and/or treat people less fortunate than themselves, ‘Get a life and grow up’!