Caring about social causes like disability rights can occasionally set me up for somewhat awkward social situations. Call me a wet blanket but I don't find stereotypical, offensive 'humour' around disability to be particularly amusing, and unfortunately it's everywhere. Also unfortunately, I have to pick my battles. If I confronted every instance of disablism I encountered, I wouldn't have time to do much of anything else. If I confronted every instance of all kinds of prejudice I care about, like sexism, racism, homophobia and so on, well. I really wouldn't have time to sleep, probably.
So it's quite satisfying when sometimes, I don't actually have to say anything at all.
I went to a friend's birthday party weekend – let's call her Jane. Not only was it Jane's birthday, but it was also the first time I'd seen my friends since I'd submitted my dissertation and finished my Masters. I was therefore definitely in the mood to have fun, catch up and not think about anything at all complicated or serious for the next few hours.
Then another guest showed up – let's call him Joe. I'd never met Joe before, and though I don't usually like to leap judgements, it was hard to avoid in this case. Joe was sporting a t-shirt proclaiming that a particular developmental disability was 'a lifestyle choice'. This was no doubt intended to be a joke – needless to say, I wasn't laughing.
So I found myself thrown into a familiar dilemma. Do I talk to Joe about the t-shirt, express my disapproval and why I think walking around sporting slogans like that is harmful to disabled people in this country? Or do I say nothing so as not to spoil Jane's party by starting an argument, but feel bad for not calling him out? Frankly, I wasn't in the mood.
In this instance, the resolution proved to be rather neat. Jane was clearly also unimpressed, and took care it for me. "This is Amy," she said, introducing me to Joe. "She volunteers for Scope."
Joe glanced down at his t-shirt, and looked rather uncomfortable. Job done. The reference to Scope said it all.
I went back to talking to my friends, and I hope that next time Joe contemplates taking that t-shirt out of his wardrobe, he reconsiders.