(Note to people who don’t know me: I’m an occupational therapist which means I work with people with illness/disabilities. I also have a sibling with autism, have spent many a day watching and cheering Special Olympics, and am in general pretty passionate about disability advocacy. Lest anyone think I don’t have a reasonable perspective on this. : ) )
I just read a couple articles in our local paper. They were written by a sports columnist who tends toward the human interest side of sports. Now, this particular set of articles were talking about having attended a kids’ track meet and watched a girl with Down Syndrome complete a race, coming in last, but being enthusiastically cheered by the people on the sidelines and her fellow students. A feel-good piece (he as much as says this, really). Having watched many a kid with disbilities run a race in the school day track meets I can totally get behind this and imagine it was a great moment. The second article was talking about all the feedback from the first and how apparently everyone cried when they read it.
Now, aside from the fact that I’ve read way too many heartwarming articles about kids with disabilities and wish they’d have a meatier focus, this is not in an of itself really even worth noting. However, this particular sports writer also hosts an afternoon sports radio show (I don’t listen but my brother, who has autism, loves sports and did used to listen to this writer’s show). One show a couple months ago this same writer used the phrase ‘short bus’ in reference to where someone should be. A family friend of our’s called in and objected. The host declared that it wasn’t an offensive phrase and basically blew our friend off. Now, my mother called in the next day to try to further explain why using that sort of language was offensive and he again pretended like he didn’t know that would be offensive. Never did he apologize or acknowledge in any way that he might be wrong. Seriously? Who thinks that ISN’T offensive? After getting into it with my mom (including hanging up on her) he did say he would come out an observe a session of the drop-in basketball program my brother attends to see the people he was offending. Strangely he has not ever showed. So I haven’t been a real fan of said person since then.
And to see that he is now writing a series of heartwarming article about a kid with disabilities? Well, seems a bit hypocritical to me. Because I have no doubt that girl would be offended if someone made fun of her for riding ‘the short bus’. And I can pretty much guarantee that her parents and her brother (who was mentioned in the article) would also be mightily upset. I know people ‘don’t mean it’ when using words like ‘retard’ and ‘short bus’. However, having the good grace to admit you’re wrong is often all it takes to mend some bridges.