Commentary

Ariana Mangum: Learn to respect people with special needs

November 24, 2013 

John called me today from Alabama. He was asking for donations for people with special needs. John is from Raleigh and is legally blind.

The person he telephoned before me told John that he would never give to an agency who helped people with special needs and never to call his number again. Then he slammed the phone down.

John felt shocked. The rudeness and the animosity were unpalatable.

There are many people who feel uncomfortable with people who have special needs. Many ordinary citizens feel embarrassed talking with someone in a wheelchair or on a cane, and often they talk over the person or speak too loudly. Most people in a wheelchair have perfectly good brains and acute hearing so there is no need to shout. It’s a form of ignorance and at its worst form, arrogance, to treat other people with a complete lack of understanding and consideration of their feelings.

John was soliciting money to train the legally blind, the deaf and the physically and mentally challenged to hold down a job in spite of their disabilities. He was a trainee on a telephone solicitation job and worked under a supervisor since John is legally blind.

An old school friend of mine has a daughter with Down syndrome. Sarah has worked at the food service of our school for nearly 20 years. She was interviewed for the job she has on her own. Sarah also has a bank account and knows how to write checks.

When recently Sarah went with her sister to a boutique in Richmond to buy something, the salesperson refused to accept Sarah’s check even though the account had money in it and the check was written correctly. Sarah and her sister left the shop and have not been back. There was no need for such put down as Sarah’s check was good; this incident not only showed the lack of good manners of the salesperson but her arrogance.

Recently, I went to a shop in Durham where the greeter is a young man in a wheelchair. Paul has a good sense of humor, and while I needed an electric cart, we discussed the abilities of women drivers. My companion disappeared.

“Are you not comfortable with people who are disabled?” I asked her when we were reunited.

“I don’t know what to say to them,” Catherine confessed. “They are not like me.”

“They have the same feelings and the same hopes and fears as anyone else,” I told her. “Learn to respect people with special needs and treat them as you would your friends.”

My friend, Sarah in Virginia, is a marvelous photographer who has a real sense of composition. Her family usually reproduces one of her pictures every year for their Christmas card. She likes to take photographs of the Rappahannock River with its fast-moving clouds and ever-changing water. Recently, she went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and again took photographs of the surf and sky. Did you know that the composer, Beethoven, wrote his glorious Ninth Symphony when he was deaf? He had to be turned around to see the applause because he could not hear it.

Remember this when you see a disabled person and stop and speak to him. You’ll light up his world with a little kindness and a little courtesy. Your reward will be great, and his appreciation will give you joy. You will receive back a lot more than you give.

Ariana Mangum lives in Chapel Hill.

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