I watched an old episode of ‘A Touch of Frost’ yesterday while I was cooking and it struck me that attitudes towards the disabled in society had improved, even since the 1980’s. In this particular episode, a young man with Downs Syndrome was accused of murdering a young girl who he was friendly with. It turned out that her own father had killed her but it showed that he was under suspicion mainly because he had made a friendship with this girl and he was in the vicinity. Her devastated mother had yelled at his parents for allowing their son with Downs to live and for being “mental”, which seemed to be reason enough to suspect him.The suspect with Downs would not explain his alibi as he was seeing his girlfriend at the time of the murder. The acting and story telling was gripping but it was a very hard watch in many ways.
I would like to think that society is more enlightened today and that there is more tolerance around. I started to wonder if there is a different burden of proof on the disabled and those with mental health problems today. We may be outwardly more tolerant, but if circumstances were stacked against them, the disabled may still be an easy target who would have to prove their innocence.
Joshua and I made our weekly pilgrimage to Tesco yesterday and he got excited as we pulled into the car park. He pushed and steered the trolley really well for the first two aisles, even allowing me to stop and load it up with shopping. But on the third aisle he became distracted as he saw a blonde ponytail operating the basket-only till. She had her back to him as he rushed over, faster than I could catch him and retrieve his abandoned trolley, and he flicked her tempting hair. If she was surprised, she hid it very well, as she turned around to grin at him as I pulled him away, full of apologies.
We finished the last few aisles quickly, only going down one where we had something on the shopping list, and he sat on the seats provided , with his legs neatly crossed, while I packed and paid for the groceries. On our way out, he spotted a young mum who he stopped to wave at; she was busy, looking down, packing her self-service shopping, so did not see him at first so he stood there waving patiently until she looked up. She waved back as soon as she saw him and apologised for not noticing him sooner. She caught us up in the car park and they waved at each other again as she walked past on her way to her car. Then finally he waved at her one more time as we drove passed her unpacking her shopping and he giggled as she responded for the third time.
Joshua is well-known as a weekend shopper at our local Tesco as we usually descend at the same time of day, late morning. Last week I dropped baking off at a friend’s house en route to Tesco and I joked that I was on my way to the shop and for an ankle kicking. She replied that ” at least you take him out still”, which is true; It would be much easier to go shopping without him on a Saturday or Sunday morning, as he could stay at home with his dad, but he enjoys the socialisation and he is getting better at pushing the trolley with me. I am delighted that the days when the disabled were hidden away from society, where they were held in assylums for their whole life because they were feared rather than being understood, are over. I feel that Joshua is part of his community when he visits Tesco with the rest of our town. The more that he is amongst his community, the more that he might be understood as a young man who likes to wave as a greeting and occasionally flick a ponytail, and he has no more malicious intentions than an occasional sideways kick at his mum’s ankles. So our weekly shopping trips are not just for his benefit to learn an important life-skill, but they are also my small attempt to integrate Joshua into his community.