“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, March 14, 2005

Patronizing Good Will

Oftentimes when describing work with persons with disabilities, or even in introducing persons with cognitive disability to those without disability, I have the feeling that I am the recipient of a kind of patronizing good will. Whether it is based on some notion of political correctness in relation to the particular enviornment one is in, or a reflection of some general social etiquete of how one is to act or speak when the question of mental retardation arises, people move into this sentimental seriousness about persons with disability. Their speech belies good will of language on their part, but there is also a laziness about it. It's like they reverence the challenges of the families of those persons and what they suspect is the experience of the persons with disabilities themselves, however, they speak out of ignorance; a kind of lazy ignorance at that. Its like the response many special educators joke about that they receive when they say they are special educators. Without fail, others will respond, "You must have a lot of patience." Ask any special educator and he will report that he has heard that response.

It seems when confronted with disability, the general public is often so unfamiliar with persons with disability and their experiences that they respond with the pat answers, the patronizing replies which have been used over and over again. It is good will, but it is patronizing and unreflective of knowledge. But apparently they have heard others use those mindless replies and they appeared to sound heartfelt, kind and maybe even intelligent. So they repeat them as well. And so on and so on. In the end, we have social constructions reflected in the trite language used in response to the unknown of disability.

Now it is obviously better that the mindless responses of the general public should be patronizing good will over something negative, however, oftentimes the pat answers convey negativity which is just below the surface. I use positive speak in public environments about persons with disability, however, in private speak or when challenged to put the positive into practice (drop a group home in the neighborhood, for example) the positive is quickly replaced because the "due diligence" has not been done to actually support the positive.

So when confronted with trite, good speech about persons with disability, ask the questions that will cause the speaker to either back up the speech with actions, or at least go a bit deeper in his understanding of disability.


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