What would you do if you saw a stranger being harassed because of their disability? Would you speak up or ignore it?
I recently watched a video that was a part of an American TV show called What Would You Do? The video featured several actors including a man with Down syndrome named Josh. Josh was playing the role of a person working at a supermarket register. There was also an actor who would verbally harass Josh.
The set-up was a social experiment to see how people would react to the harassment of a stranger with a disability. Josh got called terrible names. He also got abused for being slow. The actor also questioned whether people with disabilities should be employed.
Important to speak up
Some of the real customers agreed with the awful comments. Others just said nothing even when they disagreed with Josh's treatment. Many said they did not want to get involved out of fear of getting attacked themselves.
Madeleine Will from the National Down Syndrome Society in the United States says in the video that it is important to speak up.
When we're silent, our silence condones the language, she says.
It's important to say this is wrong, this is not fair, this is not how we treat other people.
It was good to see a number of customers did speak up for Josh. Some defended him very strongly. One customer even tried to have the abusive actor removed from the store. He then comforted Josh and reassured him he was doing a good job.
Josh thanked the customers who defended him.
It's not right to treat people like us, who have Down syndrome, like that.
I believe in speaking up against people who harass others because of their disability. Abusive people need to be told that their behaviour is not acceptable. But I often find that when friends and family defend me, it can be uncomfortable.
If I receive comments or stares about my appearance, people sometimes receive a mouthful from my well-intentioned but defensive friends. It can make me even more self-conscious. But when a stranger speaks up for me when I'm alone, it is a relief. And so very rare.
Almost started a fight
I remember my first boyfriend almost started a fight with someone who stared at me. My second boyfriend was also once very intent on setting the record straight that he was
proud to have a pink girlfriend. I ended up walking ahead of him while he gave the person a serve! But usually I am left to fend for myself when abuse occurs. People usually do not step up and defend me.
In 2003 I was told I was ugly and should be dead by another woman on a tram. She ranted at me for two minutes. It was awful. And scary. No one spoke up. A similar thing happened with a group of people passed me in 2008. Passers by didn't stop to tell them their abuse was wrong. I was left yelling at them like a madwoman.
More recently, a guy on a train defended me against four boys taking photos of me on their phones. It made me feel really proud. There are some kind-hearted, strong people out there.
Would I speak up?
The video made me wonder whether I would speak up if someone else was in a situation like the ones I have described. Given my experiences, I think I probably would. But I wouldn't if my safety was compromised.
There are times when I've stood up against this kind of behaviour. I am highly protective of my friends with disabilities. I see stares and hear comments and am appalled. But I am also mindful of causing a scene for the sake of my friends. I want to let the person receiving abuse speak for themselves (if they're in a state to do so). I hate people asking friends and family what is wrong with me, assuming I can't speak for myself.
Rude and inappropriate
There was a time recently when a friend made a derogatory comment about people with a disability. I told them not to talk like that. They asked why. I said it was rude, inappropriate, and that I have many friends with disabilities. I said this sort of attitude sickens me. I think my friend was shocked at my lecture.
I was recently on a train coming home from work. A girl with an intellectual disability got on and kept repeating she wanted a seat. Her Mum wouldn't let her move elsewhere. No one offered her a seat. She was nearly in tears. School kids nearby were sniggering. I was half a carriage away. I really wanted to call out
can someone give that girl a seat? But I didn't speak up. I should have. I left the train feeling guilty. I'm sorry. Next time I will speak up.
Would you speak up?