I thought about my own experiences - both with questions, comments, bullying and stares I receive, and whether I have spoken up for someone else on the receiving end of nastiness.
It's interesting because I believe in speaking up against this behavior. Abusive people need to be told that their behaviour and insults towards people with disabilities is not acceptable.
But, from experience, I often find that when friends and family defend me in similar situations, it can be almost as outspoken as those who are giving me a hard time. Then when a stranger speaks up for me when I'm alone, it's a relief, and so very rare.
As I wrote on Ramp Up, 'There are those who gather a group of friends to point, laugh at and ridicule the 'girl who got stupidly sunburnt'. These ones usually receive a mouthful from my well-intentioned but defensive friends, making me more self-conscious than the stares themselves.'
I remember my first boyfriend almost started a fight with someone who stared at me, and my second boyfriend was so intent on setting the record straight that he was 'proud to have a pink girlfriend' that I ended up walking ahead of him while he gave the commenter a whatfor!
So many times though, I am left to fend for myself when abuse occurs. People usually do not step up and defend.
In 2003 I was told I am ugly and should be dead by a woman with spider tattoos on her face, on the 86 tram to Collingwood. She carried a bottle of alcohol and may have been a prostitute. She ranted at me for two minutes, it was awful. And scary. No one spoke up. And a similar thing happened with a group of five dwarfs in 2008 - pretty much the same words, but near a supermarket. Passers by didn't stop to tell them their abuse was wrong. I was left yelling at them like a madwoman. And then I cried in a heap in the office of my real estate agent (they didn't know what to do), got really drunk on $8 wine and called the boy I loved and cried like a girl (he didn't know what to do either).
When the guy on the train defended me against four boys taking photos of me on their phones, it made me feel really proud. There are some kindhearted, strong people out there.
I wondered whether I had seen the situations that have happened to me whether I'd speak up? Probably, given my experiences, but also, probably not if my safety is compromised.
I was trying to think about when I've stood up against this kind of behaviour, and I can't pin point it. Of course I am highly protective of my friends with disabilities - I see stares, hear comments and am appalled, but I am also mindful of causing a scene, for my friends' sakes. One thing I'm considerate of is letting the person receiving abuse speak for themselves, if they're in a state to. I hate people asking friends and family what's wrong with me, assuming I can't speak.
There was a time recently when a friend made a derogatory comment about disabled people, and I told them not to talk like that. When asked why, I said it's rude, inappropriate and I have many friends with disabilities and this sort of attitude sickens me. I think my friend was shocked at my warranted lecture.
This video came by at an appropriate time. On Monday after work, an intellectually disabled girl got on my train and kept repeating that she wanted a seat. Her Mum wouldn't let her move to a seat, but no one offered her a seat. She was nearly in tears. School kids were sniggering. I was half a carriage away from her and really wanted to call out 'can someone give that girl a seat?'. But I didn't speak up. And I felt like I should have. I left the train feeling guilty. I'm sorry, and next time I will speak up.
Would you speak up?