Keeping Pace

I observed a group of children playing a skipping game. One of the younger children who also has co-ordination difficulties and low muscle tone was trying to get included in the game. The game kept speeding up.  The child helpless, desperate to be included and with no remaining options, started crying and claiming that her twelve year old cousin had said that the children should incorporate her. This naive attempt to invoke the name of a higher authority won her the title of manipulative. The label claimed as vindication, afforded the others licence to bar her from any further play. I confronted one of the children, believing that this child had the sensitivity and maturity to understand the issue. The child’s response was “the game does get faster and faster, and why should they change the game for her?” Logic told me that he was right. So did other adults. It took me time to articulate the reason why I was I feeling so outraged and disappointed. The answer finally crystallised. While they were right in terms of the letter of the law, they were wrong to be intolerant and unkind. True kindness means going beyond the strict letter of the law. You cannot be kind at the expense of doing what is right.  You can be right and not be generous or kind. You go according to the letter of the law and even end up being outright cruel. Disability is only a handicap when able bodied people through acts or omissions place obstacles that prevent those with particular challenges gaining entry into and participating meaningfully in society on an equal footing.  The same could apply to people who are elderly, hearing or visually impaired or have chronic pain that prevents them from picking up on information and cues or moving at the same pace that allows them to be fully in sync with the people around them.   Any difference can be a handicap in the same way. This does not have to be about actual disability. Handicap can be socially constructed.  Consider the challenge for a demure junior black female team member in a majority white male group who bond by talking rugby, and have some of their most significant conversations bars after hours. Ex-pats who are new in a country and have not yet learned the ways and of the land have to constantly try to make sense of mundane realties that locals take for granted. Anyone who does not fit easily into the mainstream or dominant culture has the same challenges. Countless acts of disempowerment and disenfranchisement happen because people take the privilege of power for granted and render powerless and invisible those who lack power.

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