Friday, March 23, 2012

Handicaps and disabilities

I was sitting and talking to my Bonnie Ronnie about our life together, only 38 years (married 35) and she asked me to write something for people with disabilities similar to her own. We have  quite a number of very dear friends who have disabilities and handicaps of varying degrees. Since the social media explosion it has become increasingly easy to find old friends, rekindle relationships that are very dear to us but unfortunately just as easy to lose them again through the ignorance, intolerance and or impatience of 'normal' people.

While the social networks are especially useful to those with obvious physical disabilities that can be hidden from view and prejudice, the same cannot be said for those with intellectual or mental handicaps ('IMH'). It is this latter group that I am thinking of and writing this blog for.

Love, happiness and acceptance, is that not what we all want? is that not at least what we are entitled to? What is the cost? Nothing! There is a great misconception that IMH people are all retarded, stupid or idiots but somehow devoid of feelings and emotions. The abuse that this group suffers as a result is not always blatantly overt but this group generally have a heightened awareness and perception so the abuse is just as devastating. IMH people are not looking for sympathy. I see a lot of demonstrated but insincere sympathy and personally view it as condescending and insulting as do many of the IMH group. 

The biggest obstacle for IMH sufferers is communication (not sure that the word "sufferers" is appropriate because they are usually very well adjusted and happy people with a great sense of humour). I have often heard them say that they feel trapped in bodies with mouths and tongues that will not function the way they are intended. They often feel as though they are in a prison within themselves, fearing to come out. When they feel that they are winning the battle within and find the courage to attempt something 'normal' such as answer the telephone or express themselves in an email their confidence is easily shattered and this can set them back days, months or even years.

I have heard understanding, tolerant, patient 'normal' people express their frustration at not being able to understand an IMH person, so just for a moment, imagine the frustration the IMH person would be feeling.... not with the 'normal' person but with their own body.

I am no expert and have no qualification in social studies but have lived with and observed this prejudice for most of my life. I must admit that I am far more tolerant of the ignorance, prejudice and rudeness of those who are blatant in their abuse than I was as a young man.

Ronnie has always tried to hide her handicap (cerebral palsy, but quite mild fortunately) until recently as a direct result of the prejudice, bigotry and abuse she has suffered all her life, from birth, rejected by her own mother. Ronnie says, "I did nothing to bring this upon myself, it's not my fault!". This is true for the majority of IMH people that I have had contact with.

Ronnie is so grateful to the school that housed her, provided operations for her eyes, speech therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, education and a social network - her extended family. The school; King George VI Memorial Children School for the Handicapped. There was a huge amount of support, love and encouragement for her which helped prepare her for this rather harsh and nasty world. Ronnie feels that she has been far more fortunate than many other people and wants us to raise awareness for those who are less fortunate.

I have watched Ronnie put up with the prejudice of not only the public at large but also my own family and friends. I have held Ronnie as she sat and sobbed, completely heartbroken because she embarrassed her children when dropping them off at junior school. I have encouraging her to shrug it off and helped build her confidence to keep moving forward. Please don't misunderstand though, I am no noble knight in shining armour believe me. There have been times in our life that my support has been left wanting and the guilt of this weighs heavily upon me. Ronnie has come a long way over time and the battle for her and other IMH people is far harder than for 'normal' people but as we approach our senior years my Bonnie Ronnie's handicap is becoming more pronounced and noticeable, hence Ronnie's desire to put this information out there.

As mentioned previously the confidence that is so easily shattered can take a long time to rebuild and an example of this is; 20 years ago I managed to get Ronnie interested enough in computers to write an email, while she was writing I popped out for a while and a friend dropped in to see me, Ronnie sought assistance from the friend to save the email which she had laboured over the whole day. He being a novice, made a mistake and gave the wrong advise which caused the work to be lost and then told Ronnie that it was her own fault with "Don't touch the bloody computer if you don't know what you are doing!" On my return the friend was gone and Ronnie was a real mess - it took 15 years of encouragement to overcome her fear of computers sufficiently to actually touch one.

Please help us raise awareness of the IMH Intellectually and Mentally Handicapped, it is the only way to overcome prejudice and abuse brought about by ignorance.

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