I’m going to start here with a basic truism that anyone who belongs to a minority or a disadvantaged group knows: nobody likes being told they are behaving in a bigoted manner, no matter how kindly the message is given.
Now, most of us don’t just say “wow, you’re a bigot!” We say, “You said something problematic here, and this is why.” Matter of fact, we often spend a great deal of time on explaining why something is problematic.
Recently, a dog trainer who writes for Dogster.com compared aggressive dogs to people with disabilities, in terms of being undesirable and requiring a ‘special person’ to adopt them and care about them. Here’s the exact paragraph for you, so you can see why we were so offended:
The fact is that many of the best dog owners I know would not want to live with an aggressive or reactive dog. This doesn’t make them “bad” dog owners, it makes them perfectly normal. Many people adopt human children. A small percentage of adopters of human children may be willing to adopt a child with Down’s Syndrome, severe birth defects, severe behavioral issues, a child who will always need someone to change diapers even into her teenage years, a child who is blind or deaf or may never speak. Are the people who choose not to adopt these children horrible people or horrible parents? Certainly not. It takes a special kind of person to accept these additional responsibilities and limitations, someone who is willing to accept a variance of what is the “normal” parenting experience.
I’m sure at this point you’re wondering why on earth I titled this entry ‘On Integrity’.
Well, fellow service dog partner and person with disabilities, Sharon Wachsler of After Gadget, responded to the article where this comment was made. She pointed out that it was a problematic comparison and explained why, including links to other sites that helped explain parts of the problem and how they can be avoided. It was a very measured reply that explained what the trainer had said that was offensive, and the troublesome attitudes behind it. The approach was I think friendly, and certainly respectful. Sharon didn’t accuse the trainer of hating us, or of intentionally hurting us. She simply stated that the trainer was perpetuating hurtful myths about what it means to be disabled, and what it means to be in the life of a person with a disability. She also made a post in her blog including her original comment, which you can find here.
Now, I have to say this first. Sharon’s response was far more measured and understanding than I would have been. I am perhaps not the most mild-tempered person. (Okay, so that’s an understatement).
So Sharon made her comment in the dog trainer’s blog. The response, which was posted the next day, was extremely disheartenening. I know, if you’ve come from that dog trainer’s blog, that you can’t see what I’m talking about because it’s been deleted – more on that later. However, if you go to Sharon’s blog, the dog trainer made the same comment in both places – a comment that accused Sharon of slandering her, describing her as a hate-monger, and stated that she was not ‘the disabled community’s…Klan leader’. To Sharon, who had tried to give the dog trainer links so she could educate herself on the issues, she said, “Which is worse? My making statements out of ignorance which are unintentionally hurtful or your statements which are intentionally hurtful yet misguided?”
Now, I know Sharon pretty well. She’s a person who spoke only to educate someone she thought was open to learning.
A friend of the dog trainer leapt in, saying much the same but in harsher terms. She started with the usual accusation towards people in a minority – that we were jumping to offense about something that wasn’t offensive. Even the trainer herself admitted that some of the things she said could have been offensive but she hadn’t known that before she wrote. This friend also stated that Sharon should have aired her concerns in private, instead of addressing a public post with a public comment. It didn’t stop there, but I don’t think I necessarily need to get into the rest of the details. You can read them for yourself on Sharon’s blog.
The trainer went to that woman’s blog, and referred to Sharon as ‘the hater’. The hater, because she had chosen to try to educate someone about how hurtful their language was. The hater, because she stood up for herself – and the rest of us – as being people. The hater, because she said ‘we are no different from anyone else’.
Of course, some of us commented back on the trainer’s blog. A woman named Rachel spoke out explicitly in support of what Sharon said, and in disgust at the response.
And I responded. I wrote on February 16th about the fact that it doesn’t take ‘special’ people to love disabilities. It’s a myth that hurts us because people choose not to engage with us thinking that our lives are just too difficult to deal with.
That very day, the comments by Sharon, that dog trainer, the dog trainer’s friend, and Rachel were all deleted by the dog trainer. All of the anger and nastiness that was poured out by the dog trainer and her friend was deleted so that it couldn’t be seen.
Instead, the dog trainer put up a note saying that I – I, who came later and made a single point about being loveable instead of talking about all of the issues with what was written – brought to her attention that the paragraph was offensive and deleted it. She linked to my blog…and to a couple of other places that are about people with disabilities rather than written by people with disabilities.
I suppose she was trying to play divide and conquer. Because I was being ‘nice’, I was the good cripple and she could leave my comment up on her blog.
If I got through to her, I suppose that’s one victory.
In the process of playing this as a game, the dog trainer has sacrificed her integrity, though. She has removed her own vicious comments, she has erased someone who spoke the truth that she didn’t want to hear, and she has hidden the attack of one of her followers.
If you’ve come from the dog trainer’s blog, I hope you choose to read Sharon’s blog and see what was really said. See what really happened. Then judge for yourself. I challenge you to put aside your indignation and anger that someone you like was ‘attacked’ and read what was written.