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A Quarter’s Worth of Advocacy

Helping or hurting?

Helping or hurting?

I am going to update some of the better articles I’ve written for my classes, parent newsletters and magazines. Hope you enjoy them.

Since Aaron was young, the language has evolved. When this story took place they used the words, “mental retardation,” then the words become “developmental disabilities” now it would be “intellectual disabilities.” I’m using the original words as I experienced them.

“Help the mentally retarded! Help the mentally retarded!”

I had just bought some 99 cent grapes, a pound of hamburger, loaf of bread and a couple other items to make dinner for my family when I was met at the door to the grocery by three older men wearing brightly-colored vests and hats with tassels. They were holding little cans and urging shoppers to “Help the mentally retarded!”

I grabbed my groceries and, not even looking up, hurried to my car. As I passed, one man said (in a very superior) voice, “Not all babies are born healthy.”

I felt my face flush and when I paused, he went in for his killer argument, “We aren’t ALL blessed with normal babies, you know!”

Well, that did it. Turning, I said, “I have a child who has the label of autism and I think it is very condescending to have to beg to raise money for quality services. He needs respect for his civil rights, not begging and charity.”

Well, the men and their swinging tassels all stopped and circled me. They were aghast. “What do you mean?”

I thought about just grabbing my bags out of the cart and running to my car, but instead looked him right in the eye. “People who are retarded need real opportunities. They can be valuable workers and contribute to society. Retarded people as objects of the mercy of others reinforces the negative stereotypes of the past. In fact, now we call them people with intellectual challenges and don’t even use the word retarded.”

“But honey, last year we raised over $300,000 in our state.” The man straightened his hat and looked like I had sucker-punched him in the gut. “One-third of that money is going toward adding a retarded adult wing onto Children’s Hospital. Also we began a new women’s group home. We stand here in the rain and cold to help. We are volunteers. We don’t get anything out of this.”

At the entrance of the store a crowd was now gathering. I knew he was probably a nice man only trying to do his Christian duty. He was sincere and dedicated, only ignorant of the principles of normalization and inclusion. The staring and frowning faces of the crowd told me they were on his side. I half expected flying can goods to start stoning me. After all, who takes on God’s Knights right in front of Krogers?

I certainly didn’t plan on making a scene. So, giving the man a smile, I just said, “Well, I serve people who have developmental disabilities in other ways” and tried to push my grocery cart around him.

He gently put his hand on my shoulder and assured me God would take care of me and my son. Then, to show no hard feelings, he put three Won’t you give an extra inch? wooden rulers into my bag.

Well, once again I had done it. My husband is always telling me to lighten up and get a new hobby. For Pete’s sake, here I was in a confrontation in front of the grocery store.

Perhaps next time I’ll just drop a quarter in the cup and make the man happy… but… in the meantime, I’ll work “inch by inch” to replace the poor helpless eternal child stereotype with an image of a citizen with real value, dignity and rights.

Share Your Thoughts

How would you handle this? Have you had similar experiences?
The kicker is that Children’s hospital no longer even wants to serve adults with disabilities. Do you think that is a good or bad thing? Also, in 2012, the Knights would be saying, “Help the children with intellectual disabilities,” right?

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7 Responses to “A Quarter’s Worth of Advocacy”

  • Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Paige, this is just a wonderful response. You helped me put some of my feelings into words: “Begging,” “Guilt trip” “Superiority” are EXACTLY what it was about. I’m sure people with disabilities need help, I’m sure this man meant well. When I believe in a cause, I work for it and am generous with my time and resources. And, it isn’t for this man to judge.

  • Paige Gieske says:

    I have never been in a situation like this one before. To be honest, I never really thought about the negative parts of how these volunteers were handling the situation. But you bring up a good point when you say that they were “begging” for money. Also, the volunteers shouldn’t guilt trip grocery shoppers to put money in the cups by saying, “we can’t all be blessed with normal babies.” They don’t know what each family is like. And maybe that customer is doing something else to help people with disabilities; therefore, they don’t need to put extra change in the cups if they don’t believe that that is the way to help. Also the man begging for money shouldn’t make it sound like having a disability is something that needs to be helped. They are just like us and he shouldn’t say that people with disabilities are not normal.

  • Abby Recker says:

    You told us this story in class, and I think you show a lot of really good points. The man just thought he was doing something nice but like you have said before people with disabilities are not charity cases they are human like the rest of us. It was good of you to stand up for your beliefs there and hopefully it made a difference in his perspectives.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Charity is tricky. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between Good and Bad. It all comes down to your personal beliefs and experiences. Hopefully Abby, you feel better able to make sound choices.

  • This was the first time I’d read this story. I think you were brave. And even if you’re husband is right and you should lighten up (probably easier on your stress levels ๐Ÿ˜‰ you maybe changed a mind in the crowd that day. And with this blog you have the opportunity to tell the story and change even more minds. You’ve changed mine. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Alison Golden recently posted..Cancer Diagnosis After Giving Birth: A Warrior Womanโ€™s Inspiring Story

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