Why People With Disabilities Need to Be Treated With Respect

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We’ve moved far in the last twenty years. I can remember a time when I had just been out of psychiatric hospital for about a week and I had some old man preaching to me about how “I should have a fuckin’ job.” I’ll also never forget the time when a taxi driver that was giving me a lift down town began to tell me how schizophrenics have two people in them. I remember challenging his views. I remember telling him that he had schizophrenia mixed up with multiple personality disorder. He told me I was wrong of course, even when I told him I had schizophrenia and I’ve always been Raymond. His silence was telling!

Yet here we are now in the age of acceptance. Disabilities are not only tolerated, but accepted. People try and understand now rather than blindly judge. Minorities finally have a say in government, and only a few years ago there was a black man sitting in the President of the United States seat. Yeah, we’re in the era of acceptance and tolerance right about now and it feels really fantastic.

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I feel we’ve gone a bit too far the other way in some cases, though. My friends, for example, those people were amazing during my period of recovery. My friends stood by me every second of the way, and there was a great deal of trying to understand me throughout the pain I was going through — but hell did they let me get away with a lot of shit that I shouldn’t have. It was almost like I had an extended childhood. People would excuse my actions because they didn’t know how to behave around me. I was let off with almost everything. I remember one New Years night I stole some guys bed because I was tired and my friends blocked off the room. Crazy, right? Poor guy. I once left a job out of the blue and my Manager was going to offer my job back because he thought I was having a “turn.” He was a decent man.

We look on social media and we read posts on what not to do with people with disabilities, what not to say, and how not to act, but no-one actually talks about what to do, what to say, and how to act around us. If it were me I’d just say act normal. No special measures — only special measures so that we can function properly as a human being, or in a human environment. I did a video a couple of years ago on just that and it gained a lot of traction.

So we’re focused on understanding and accepting others with disabilities but we haven’t touched much on respect, and I think that’s mainly because of the negative diatribe we have on social media about what not to do, and how not to act, which is perhaps fuelled by the various people that are still stuck in the 50’s. It doesn’t happen at all to me now, but there was a time a few years ago when I was told that I was “fuckt in the head” by an internet chum because of my past illnesses. We all have a friend or two that still likes to take the piss out of people with disabilities, or at least I have a few anyway.

I learned a lot about respect when I started on my journey to recovery, and I first learned about “treating me the same as anyone else” when I plunged into my next career choice. I didn’t actually know what respect was. To me, respecting me as a person was making allowances for me, it was creating an environment around me that fostered my own happiness and safety with no regard to anyone elses. I was lucky in a sense because my new career was jumping head first into an area of self-empowerment and growth in a way that I had never experienced before. I was working in the charity sector helping others with mental health problems. It was a way to get help whilst simultaneously giving back. But respect I learned was a whole new domain for me — mainly because I hadn’t been shown any respect in my entire life.

Respect isn’t just making allowances, and giving compassion. Respect is sending out clear boundaries also. It’s allowing yourself to say no to people when you feel they’ve overstepped. It’s also allowing yourself to be heard when you feel someone is being disrespectful. It’s a healthy balance of acceptance and boundaries. That’s what respect is. Could you just imagine my confusion for the first time in my life I was told that my behaviour wasn’t acceptable yet still had my job intact the very next day? Could you imagine the level of complete utter mind-fuckery as things went back to normal after conflict arose because of my acting inappropriately? I was told off yes, I was put in my place, yes, but after that we just got on with our work. No eternal passive aggressiveness from my colleagues or management; just.. respect. And I needed that. I also think we need to learn that as a society.

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We say that we need to treat people with respect but actually what we are really saying is that we need to treat some people better than others. We are giving one group better allowances than others. Not convinced? Do you feel uncomfortable reprimanding someone with a severe mental health issue for their shitty behaviour? You may even argue that it is because of their illness that they act in the way that they do. I disagree though, and as someone that went from being labelled as a Paranoid Schizophrenic to being given a full clean bill of health I can wholly say I began functioning better as an individual when people stopped bending over backwards to make sure that I was comfortable. I’ve had to learn some seriously tough lessons and face up to a few heavy truths, but I wouldn’t have learned them if I hadn’t been left alone to fuck up in the way that I did. I would still be trapped in the cycle of making my own mistakes again and again.

I think as a society we haven’t quiet grasped this yet, and I think it’s mainly because a lot of us don’t know how to respect others. This is because we were never fully shown respect by our parents, and yup, you guessed it, we never learned to fully respect ourselves. So now we have a nation(s) trapped in a toxic cycle of making allowances for others thinking they are doing good by giving them respect. In my eyes this is dangerous because it can get to the point where one group of people automatically think that they deserve a certain allowance in society on the basis of their problems, when in essence that’s not the way it works at all. I am given respect (or it is taken away) based on how I act as a person. I don’t feel I should have a right to anything over another person without any effort. I like to work for what I have.

Personal accountability should be a thing on all fronts.

Be responsible and give yourself the respect you deserve.

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