I read Antoinette Laferla’s post of the 4th December, 2013, rhetorically asking and questioning the practice of marking International Day of Disabled People. Discrimination is a plague still felt in today’s society. There are many types of discrimination, and, unfortunately, most of them are real and deeply felt. One type of existing discrimination is hardly discussed openly. Yet it is felt, probably as much as sexual or racial discrimination. Nobody would want to accept reality when seeing someone with special needs; they instantly feel embarrassed.
Embarrassment which a “normal” person always feels, leads to emargination. Being emarginated is just one form of discrimination. Treating people with special needs as if not seeing them is most probably the most common insult that they can ever experience. Nobody feels comfortable when instantly emarginated. The same thing happens when someone glimpses someone else’s look turn suddenly towards something else.
Did you know that almost one in every five of the Maltese population falls in the category of people with special needs? It is just a third of those people with special needs who are older than sixty five years. Special needs vary; there are hundreds of different types of special needs. Some consist of birth defects; others come about with time, and others arise some moment during the stricken individual’s life. With such statistics, you might think that perhaps we would be more ready to accept within our fold people with special needs. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
A comment passed by President Barrack Obama has again raised awareness of the difference between a person with special needs and a normal person. The fact that someone in a powerful position as the President can make an inappreciative remark regarding his ability to play a particular game being as handicapped as participating in the Special Olympics indicates how we look at people with special needs. Even though it was supposed to have been said ‘jokingly’, the whole issue compounds the problem.
The Special Olympics were created for people with special needs in order to afford them an opportunity to be like others. It is a pity that the world still does not look down positively on organizations such as the Special Olympics, which truly harbour noble aims and are eager to help those who are different. The fact remains that those who participate in the Special Olympics are different; these evoke fear, and, thus, are ridiculed. They are trained with extraordinary education and attention, or as if they cannot do anything for themselves on their own.
You will have heard all the derogatory words, or out right made use of them yourselves. Words such as “He is retarded “, are born out of those derogatory remarks. In schools, students all the time make fun of those with special needs, or treat them as something inferior. If somebody resorts to the phrase “Special Education” it is immediately linked to “retarded”. Believe it or not, the most common reaction to people with special needs is the wish to be swallowed by the earth. Because of them, most of us wish to be swallowed up by the earth. Most of us feel embarrassed because of them. All in all, we wish to be swallowed up by the earth for being aware that a person is what he or she is: with special needs.
The strangest point emerging out of this entire scenario is that practically every person with special needs has a talent unparalleled to someone with no special needs. They achieve much more than the common ‘Charles’. Furthermore, they are more industrious than their normal mates. They are highly trustful persons, and truly exude friendship. Yet, few are those ‘normal’ people who somehow afford them any opportunity to be something or someone, except a stereotype.
Malta needs to understand and appreciate more the anguish of those with special needs. Discrimination against people with special needs should be highlighted as much as racial or sexual discrimination. Yet few are those who hardly become aware how their actions affect people with special needs. Good and kind-hearted people are pushed aside simply because they go about in wheelchairs, use white-ended sticks, or appear different from those around them.
When we avoid people with special needs, we would be in fact distancing ourselves from someone truly special. Nobody likes receiving derogatory remarks. Words indeed have a hold on man. Kind-hearted words win over friendships. Harsh words or badly used can destroy any type of friendship.
Whoever coined the proverb “Rods and stones can perhaps break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” has yet to hear uttered some horrible word.