Friday, 3 February 2012

Disability first in training?

I met my friend with his son at the bus stop on my way home.

The bus came and while boarding the bus, she was separated from his son, as his son managed to squeeze through the man in front of her at the entrance. Upon knowing that he had blocked my friend from his son, the man turned, stepped back and gesture for my friend to go up the bus first. However, the space is just too narrow for my friend to squeeze through. After a few attempts to indicate and tell the man about it, she gave up raised her voice a little to instruct his son to come back and stared at the man.

Following my friend after she boarded the bus, I discovered that the man who blocked and separated my friend from his son, was a client with intellectually disability from an institution I visited recently. "Wow, good social skills he had displayed." I told myself.

Walking to my friend to explain on behalf of the man with intellectual disability, I was disturbed by her striking comments.

"Chong Beng, you had been working in the sector supporting people with intellectual disability for many years. You know many people with intellectual disability, whom you had worked with or seen while visiting their centers. Even if you had not seen them, your years of experience would likely enabled you identify their disability, right? I don't have those training and neither the experience to identify their disability. They don't and should not walk around carrying a tag to label their disability too right? To me, that gentleman looks normal and I was seriously wondering if he is trying to be funny and take advantage of me."

Ouch!!! Now that is a wake up call isn't it? We, in the disability sector always encourage others to address people with disability, person/name first then followed by their disability. Yes, the gentleman I met was really good with great social skills that many with his disability cannot meet. But is this good enough? In my attempts to clarify with my friend on his behalf, I had put his disability first, seeking forgiveness and trying to justify the good social skills gentleman had in relation to his disability.

So should we train or support people with disability, with a disability tag and putting their disability first?