The other night we went out with family and friends to celebrate my mom's birthday. It was a lovely evening, great company, and tasty Italian food. We took Evie out in her wheelchair and everything was going smoothly. Then she had an episode (her small body goes rigid, her hands become manic, and she breathes heavily) that lasted about ten to fifteen minutes. I sat there in my chair, cradling her stiffened body, feeling helpless and trying not to cry. It finally passed. I felt relieved and worried at the same time. My husband excused himself from the table to take a call and I handed Evie off to G-Boss. Then the second upsetting event occurred that evening...
As I sat there collecting myself after her episode, a sound I am all too familiar with made it's way to my ears. The sound of adult men (about mid 30's), sitting no less than 6 feet from me, making "retarded" noises. I'm sure you can hear it in your head now. These sounds are sometimes heard when someone is telling a story and decides that either someone or something is/was stupid and the best way to convey that is through making fun of those that are not able to articulate well, have no real control over their vocalizations, or can not communicate any other way (like our Evie). I felt torn. We were at a nice place, it was loud (so I wasn't fully aware of what they were conversing about, but I was totally sure about what I heard), and I was feeling emotional. Probably not the best time to approach strangers about their insensitivity to those around them.
I related this story to my online support group and it brought up other instances when we just don't know how to approach someone (especially if is a co-worker, friend, or family member) when situations like this occur. Then I remembered a similar situation with someone I love very much. They used the "R" word to describe another driver on the road. I was on the phone with them and felt comfortable saying something. It was the first time I actually spoke up about someone using that word and will probably not be the last.
However, it isn't limited to the "R" word. People who jokingly say, "Aww...isn't that special...special ed!" or who mockingly make unintelligible sounds and spastic gestures to indicate someone or something being "stuipid" are equally insensitive. We hear the same excuses all the time when people are trying to justify this type of behavior or use of the "R" word, "We didn't mean it that way," (doesn't matter it still hurts) or "I don't think of him/her like that." (how does that make it okay? what about other people?)
When it comes to people you know the best suggestion I have is to ask to speak with them privately (no one likes being "called out" in front of others). Explain to them that while you know them and (on some level) understand they aren't aiming those comments toward your family member or friend, it still hurts and other people don't know them may not be as understanding. Approaching strangers is a totally different story...I still haven't figured that one out just yet and usually sit in silence
I do have a few friends that casually use the "R" word and it always feels like they just screamed it through a mega phone. I stiffen and bristle, but I give them some slack. I know their hearts, but maybe my silence isn't doing them any favors because others don't and they may become the fuel that ignites a fire.