The Community Speaks Out
In the May edition of Access Press, Clarence Schadegg wrote a short letter about his experiences with being assaulted, asking whether others with disabilities feel more vulnerable to assault because of their disability. Below are some of the responses we’ve received. We welcome further responses. Also see related article, Breaking the Silence.
Good for you! I feel that way too! If anyone ever attacks me again, I won’t make it easy on them. To me, any defense, and anything that can be used as a weapon, is fair. When my sister worked her way up to crutches, I made sure she was aware that a crutch makes a damned fine club, as does a cane. I have also learned some very easy but painful (to an attacker) moves.
Admittedly, not everyone can fight, but we can all resist. These thugs don’t know what real courage is. It’s not ganging up on someone who has trouble walking more than twenty yards. It’s getting on your feet and walking those twenty yards. It’s being disabled and refusing to let it destroy you. It’s knowing that you’re a target for assault and going out and facing the world anyway. It’s looking at one or more of these jerks and refusing to let them intimidate you. It’s courage they’ll never possess themselves.
Thomas St. James,
Rather Safe than Sorry
My name is Gloria Steinbring and I have a few disabilities, like being a slow learner and arthritis. I used to feel safe going into the community by myself: but no more. Things change. I even hear shot guns in the neighborhood, especially at night. I don’t feel safe going out in the daylight or at night by myself. I always have someone with me. I like Metro Mobility because I feel safe when they take me places.
I think I would feel the same way whether I had a disability or not, but it’s worse with a disability. I can’t drive, so that makes it hard to get around, too.
Keeping myself safe is my number one priority, even if it means not going everywhere I want to go. I would rather be safe than sorry.
I Tell My Story
I get teased a lot when I’m out in the community. Some kids tease me and say nasty things because I don’t talk plain and I walk funny. I don’t feel comfortable when this happens. I just usually walk away with my head up, but not too high. I try to remember that I’m a good person and not pay attention to what they are saying.
I go to schools and talk to the kids about my life—how I was brought up in a state institution and the hard times in my life. I tell them about the good times too. After the kids get to know me, they say “Hi” and talk to me and don’t tease me anymore. That makes me feel good. I’m going to another school to give a talk next week. It takes guts and courage, but I don’t mind doing it.
Larry Lubbers, West St. Paul
Aren’t These Hate Crimes?
Things got real bad since I was in grade school. I had mental and physical disabilities, and all through school kids were brutal. As I grew into adulthood, it was not uncommon to get taunts on the way I walked, etc. I stayed with my parents, and we were never vandalized. But in 1988 I got my parents’ home on contract for deed. Within months, the egg scars showed up on the house. And as the years went by, I got assaulted and attacked, fires were set to the house, and several times some vandals stole “Handicap” city signs and threw them on the front steps of my house. All those years of being called “stupid” or “mentally retarded” or “oddball” or “walk funny.” I become a homeowner and sharks are there. In 2003 some idiot wrote “Die Bitch Scary Mary” on my garage door. And on May 4th, the Minnesota Daily referred to me as Minneapolis’s token crazy lady. The author claimed when she was growing up in my neighborhood she heard kids call me “crazy,” “scary,” etc, and out of jest she thought it was OK to include this in the article.
Are those words on the garage door, and the taunts I’ve lived with all my life, not called hate crimes?
Mari Newman, Minneapolis
Now I’m More Discreet
Sometimes my disabilities can be invisible to strangers. For example, I received a mild head injury in 1982. On a good day people generally don’t notice my brain injury. However, at times I’m more forgetful or confused, so my disability is more apparent. Also, when it’s windy weather my bangs blow around, so my forehead scar shows.
When I choose to tell people about my disabilities, I become more vulnerable. I lost a couple of jobs years ago by being too honest up front. I would usually get hired, but the bosses would watch me closely. I was allowed fewer mistakes than my fellow employees. Being fired for my disabilities attacked my self-confidence and financial security.
I have felt the most vulnerable in my intimate relationships: family, friends, and lovers. Some have been empathetic and understanding of my special needs. Others have run away in horror as though they might catch my conditions. Also, abusive personalities seemed to gravitate towards me, in the same way wolves will go after a wounded deer.
Consequently, I now use more discernment in revealing my conditions than in my youth. For example, when I have difficulty hearing someone, I generally tell them I have a deaf ear. Then we can accommodate more easily. However, I don’t just bring up my disabilities in conversation for no reason.
Regarding home safety, I have had home care workers in the past that I didn’t trust. Sometimes I would tell the agency not to send a person to my house again. Having strangers in our homes is a serious concern for our community. I know folks who refuse help in their homes, because they are afraid of being robbed or assaulted.
I recently moved from Minneapolis to Maple Lake with my new hubbie. So far I am enjoying our peaceful farm community. Luckily we have two big dogs, a St. Bernard and a Lab mix, so I feel quite safe out here.