This weekend, ARK will have their annual “Buddy Walk“.
This is an event, from what I can tell, that raises money for the disabled in Dubuque, and has ‘normal’ people pair up and hang out with disabled people/children.
I have so many mixed feelings about this.
It is very important that everyone sees people with disabilities as people. A day like this, though? So someone is friends with my son for a day. My son then ceases to be a person, but becomes an object lesson. “This is a disabled child. Look, he can play games too! Let’s raise some money and feel good about ourselves by playing with kids like him!”
What are the odds of any of the parents there exchanging phone numbers with me so their children can play with Ted any old day? Slim, I bet.
On the one hand, I do want to normalize things. I want people to see Ted, and others like him, as just people. But how much should that be my burden? How much should it be his burden? Should he be in the newspaper, looking cute, surrounded by ‘regular’ kids, smiling benevolently as they take time out from a Saturday to be with my son? Would they turn him down for a kid that ‘looks retarded’ instead? Because a lot of pictures showed one person who didn’t quite look normal surrounded by smiling normal-looking people. And something tells me they do that on purpose.
I did get great advice from a F(f)riend. To go if it is something Ted will enjoy. That will be my criteria for going this weekend. Still, a part of me is very uncomfortable at what on some level feels like the objectification of people with disabilities. It’s like feeding the hungry on Thanksgiving, only, or sponsoring a family for Christmas. Once the day is done, and the kiddies learned the lesson about charity, the families still go back to their regular lives.
At the end of the day, the families who are there on Saturday are still the have, and have-nots. They’ll go home and have dinner and conversation and plans for a future that includes living alone, driving a car, having a career, college perhaps, marriage, children, dating, friendships. Mine will go home wondering if we will ever get a communication device that doesn’t suck, and how well my son did at his ‘vocational training’ where he is taught to shred paper and put chairs on desks. Yes, they hope maybe they can teach my son to do some cleaning work when he grows up, and actually be a ‘productive member of society’. Your kids are learning algebra and Spanish, mine is learning how to clean up after your kids.
Maybe the buddy walk will at least teach your kids to smile kindly as my kid wipes your table clean at McDonald’s when he’s 40, after yours spilled something all over the place, instead of looking impatiently as he shuffles over and is unable to talk to you because, you know, that whole inability to speak thing.