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To Those Who Mock People With Intellectual Disabilities

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To Those Who Mock People With Intellectual Disabilities,

My first question is why? Why do you make these jokes? Why Does it make you feel so giddy, so powerful, to make hateful jokes and constantly drop the r-word? Why are you so determined to mock other human beings that you even continue them after you’ve been asked time and time again to stop?

I have many relatives and many friends with varying disabilities. Their disabilities range from ADHD to autism to Down syndrome. While not everyone I meet knows my back story and knows I love so many who vary from the “norm,” why does it take this knowledge to stop  spewing out hate? Does it make you feel powerful to make fun of people behind their backs?

Why not look past people’s limitations and focus on what they can do? Why not focus on how strong people can be, even when they’re facing what you might consider the impossible? Why can’t you try to learn and understand, rather than continuing to feed your own ignorance?

I have seen this hatred, this blatant ignorance, all my life. The amount of times I fought with and yelled at other children (who were only imitating the adults around them) while growing up is outrageous. I have lost count of the amount of times I would be on the playground and would notice both children and adults pointing at my family and whispering to one another. I have lost count of the amount of times other children would come up to me and ask me why I was hanging out with the “freaks,” the “retards.” I have even had people, children and adults alike, come up to me and apologize that I’m “stuck with this hardship.”

Lashing out at hate with more hate is definitely not the right way to go; I personally believe education is always the best route. But I quickly learned as a child that it doesn’t always work. Some individuals always seem to find my attempts to educate both pathetic and hilarious, and it can even fuel even more hate and jokes. And because I was so young and my mind couldn’t comprehend anything other than that I needed to stop the mocking and hatred, I was quick to lash out at other children and scare them off. In my mind, I had to stop it, because I could not allow my little brother or little cousins to hear this. I couldn’t let them hear that they were supposedly “wrong” and the world might not accept them. I could not allow them to feel that heartbreak so early in their lives.

Even though most of the incidents I’m discussing above occurred when I was younger, I still see it in the world around me. I see it when I’m out with my Special Olympics kids or my family and people give me looks. In their eyes I see thoughts like “Why are you letting them out in the real world? Why are you exposing those who are ‘normal’ to these ‘freaks?’” This infuriates me to no end, but I lock up that hatred and I educate instead.

I step back and watch as my kids, my strong little warriors, do the shopping on their own. I watch as they order their own food in restaurants. I watch as they work jobs in public places and kick ass at what they’re doing. I watch the surprise on other people’s faces when they learn that people with intellectual disabilities can communicate. They can do things on their own. They’re not helpless little children who should be locked away from the real world. They get to learn that when these individuals set their mind to something, they can accomplish it. They just might have to do it in their own different and unique way.

I ask those who make these jokes to learn like these people in these public spheres have. I ask them to attend a Unified Basketball game and see the majority of the school district show up to the game, and realize that half of those in the game and on the sidelines are actually volunteers. They are wonderful volunteers who spend many hours each week hanging out, having fun, and making friends with our kids.

I ask you to go to a Special Olympics tournament and witness the love and fun everyone has with one another, and see the amazing and supportive community that has been created.

I ask you to see the achievements an intellectually disabled person can have and stop being surprised when you learn that some of these individuals can ace an AP course. I ask you to realize they can accomplish their goals, both academically and socially. IEPs exist for a reason.

I ask you to ask me about the wake and funeral I just attended of a wonderful young man who had both Down syndrome and autism. Ask me about the hundreds of people who came by to pay their respects. Ask me about the hundreds of people who did so through phone or social media. Ask me about the thousands of dollars raised to create a memorial and scholarships in his honor.

Ask me about the thousands of amazing stories I have heard since I learned the devastating news. Ask me about the laughter and tears I witnessed as we watched a montage of silly videos and photos of this amazing individual, and all the wonderful people he met throughout his life. Ask me about the love everyone felt toward this one individual. Ask me about how one person some people pushed to the side because of their prejudice had such a profound effect on so many people’s lives. Ask me not about his limitations, but his accomplishments. Ask me about who he was as a person, and realize that he and everyone else with intellectual disabilities are just like you.

Please don’t just sit back and be happy with your prejudice, with your hate. Stop smirking at me when you make your hateful and crude jokes. Instead, find out why your behavior is disgusting to me and so many others. Find out why we shake our heads at you.

Educate yourself. Please. Open up your mind and heart to those who are different from you. Not only will others benefit from this, but so will you. I believe it will turn your life around in a heartbeat and only change it for the better. These wonderful individuals can teach you a new way of thinking and a new way to love.

Ask. Learn. Stop hiding in the dark, and come into the light.

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.

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Thinkstock photo by BananaStock.



Originally published: May 8, 2017
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