I work with a lot of different people in disability services, so in turn I see a lot of different disabilities. I am interested in all of my work really, and try not to limit myself. But I never forget where it started, and continues to this day, with one day a week at Special School.
At Special School, in my particular classroom, I have students who have severe physical impairments but who also have brains much brighter than their bodies. I sometimes classify this as the cruelest turns of fate, to be in a body and you want it to work but you know it doesn't and it won't. It is different from Autism, which I heard beautifully put as 'seeing life through a different window, not understanding what you see, and nobody understands it either' (a generalization, but holds true for many people I know). It is different from intellectual impairment.
I know my students well. They are getting older, so I like to refer to them as my friends. They are all clever - much cleverer than people give them credit for. They can be lovely, but not always. They are teenagers and I remember my moodiness as a teenager all too well.
What I cannot stand is upon a minute of meeting them, someone who says "Oh bless them, what sweethearts!"
One of my students is, I'll give you that much. She is a sweetie, and she is often happy, and she is quick to smile and laugh. She is sweet. I'll even let you say she is a sweetheart.
But one of my other students that I can think of? Sweetheart is not the first word I would think to describe her. Bright, vivacious and bitter. I know her. She is currently limited as we unlock a key for an effective communication device, and this can make her angry. Would you call any other high-school aged student a "sweetheart" moments after meeting them?
One day, a friend of mine who is studying to be a social worker wrote this on Facebook
"It never ceases to amaze me how much people with disabilities despite all the discrimination they face on a daily basis are still some of the kindest and friendliest people I know."
That's coming from a social worker. A mass generalization on all people with disabilities.
I work with many different people. Guess what? I get bitten. I get spat on - purposefully, too. I am often covered with bodily fluids (nobody's fault). I get yelled at, by other carers. I try and stop self-injurious behaviours. I listen to a lot of squealing. I sometimes have to run a lot.
Sometimes I work with sweethearts. Sometimes I work with real cool cats. Sometimes I work with a mate or a buddy, and everything in between.
It's not glamorous. There is nothing romantic about this.
My Special Students are not Sweethearts, simply because they have a disability.
I've gotten it before too. I know my friend Emily from Words I Wheel By gets it too, as does her mum.
Any assumption about a person with a disability: that they will be sweethearts or not is a massive and unfair overgeneralization. We should be seeing a person before a disability. When we judge or assume that someone will be one way or another because of their disability, no matter what the disability, we are not being person-first.
And clearly, sometimes even social workers need a reminder on that.