Read any of the often somewhat heated discussions to be found on any special needs parenting forum or Facebook group, and sooner or later you will find someone obliquely hinting that if a woman has the time and energy to think about anything outside of her child’s needs, then she is neglectful. This week, then, I must have been an appallingly bad mother, because I not only found time to read, but I found the time and energy to get properly outraged by one of the things I read, and even to tweet about it.
I can tell you what I wish I hadn’t read this week – an article by one Damian Thompson in The Catholic Herald.
The really sad thing is that the article was intended to raise the profile of a very worthwhile charity which aims to teach vital skills to young adults with learning disabilities, to enable them to find and retain employment.
The thing that came through most eloquently in his words was his distaste at having to spend a day in the company of those with learning disabilities; a phrase he describes as a euphemism for (get this) ‘mentally handicapped’ or ‘retarded’. He then went on to say that those of us who object to such phrases did not care about the ‘mentally disabled’, just about whether or not they were correctly labelled.
He describes playing a game of table tennis with young adults who, he suggests, were more childish than children. When he proved to be clumsy at the game he says that you ‘would conclude that I had a learning disability of my own’. You could almost see him, as you read, pulling a face, doing a stiff-legged walk, and making ‘duuuh’ noises, like a schoolboy mocking the disabled in front of his friends.
Only two paragraphs in and already I wanted to burn this charming individual (a euphemism for ‘dickless little twat’) at the stake on a bonfire made out of copies of the Catholic Herald.
He almost lost me at that point, before I’d even got to the crux of the article, but I persevered. Though the rest was not openly mocking, it was patronising in tone, which detracted greatly from what should have been a positive message about a wonderful charity.
Of course, he was called out on Twitter. His response? Name-calling. We were ‘despicable’, ‘vile’, ‘vicious’, and ‘off the scale in nastiness’. He claimed it was a planned strategy to ‘provoke the language police’. What did he imagine he would achieve by doing that? At best it was immature and ill-conceived, at worst, wantonly mischievous. Potentially he stood to cause more harm than good to the charity whose profile he was supposed to raise. He called in friends, or perhaps just twitter contacts, to insult and intimidate some tweeters into retracting and apologising. When no one did, he threw his toys out of the pram, and announced in big shouty capitals ‘YOU’RE BLOCKED’.
It would be good form here for me to include a link to the article so that you can read it and make up your own mind, but I don’t want to give his poisonous voice any more of an airing. For every person reading that article who can see through his attitude, there will be more than one who assumes that because he is a professional journalist writing in a publication that purports to uphold Christian values, that his perception of learning disability is acceptable. It is not. If you really want to read it, you can find it on The Catholic Herald’s page or website, under the title ‘Charity without the Guilt Trip’.
I would urge you instead to go directly to the website of Team Domenica – the charity he was writing about – http://www.teamdomenica.com, where you can find out all about their enrichment programme for young adults with learning disabilities, in their own words. They truly understand the abilities and potential our young people have, and what an asset they can be in the workplace if given a chance.
For leisure, pleasure, and a healthy bit of escapism, I have been reading the novel White Teeth by Zadie Smith. It is fabulously well-written and absorbing, so much so that it actually didn’t provide the escapism I was hoping for; instead, it tipped me straight back into a former, less happy, life.
I didn’t realise until after I bought it that it’s set in the very area of North London where I lived for a time when I was in my late teens/early twenties. I found many echoes of my own experiences in the early chapters of the book, dealing as they do with relationships that straddle racial, cultural, and generational divides. In my own life, I viewed the breakdown of my (then) relationship as an escape. It will be interesting to note, as I read on, whether I will begin to see a different viewpoint: both of my own story, and that of the novel.