Loretta Claiborne, “Let’s Talk About Intellectual Disabilities”, TEDx Midwest.
I’m always incredibly gratified to see people with developmental disabilities in settings that are generally full of intellectual snobbery. Because the rest of the time, I’m wondering “Where are we in their world?” I once went to a self-advocacy conference and two days later I went to MIT. At the self-advocacy conference I was totally welcome and felt a belonging I rarely feel anywhere. At MIT I felt like I didn’t belong, like I was trespassing and would be unveiled in an instant as one of those people who doesn’t belong on a university campus — something I’d been told many times when I tried and failed to go to university. I did my best, while I was there, to open it up for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, but I don’t know how much good I did. I got angry more times than I can count, for reasons I couldn’t even name. And I get angry the same way when I watch TED talks, it’s the same bunch of people there as were at MIT, the same mentality.
At MIT it didn’t matter how much they reassured me that I belonged there. I knew I really didn’t. I knew it every time anyone told me my “real IQ” couldn’t be as low as it was last time it’d been measured. I knew it every time someone made it clear I was only interesting insofar as I had talents to make up for being disabled. But I did my best to make it so I belonged there, to change the environment so that more people could follow me there. And I don’t know how much change I made in just a few days. But I tried.
So to see someone with an intellectual disability presenting at a conference full of intellectual snobbery makes me overjoyed. It’s not everything but it’s a start.
This version of the video, alas, has no captions, which means I cannot watch it myself. (Not unless you count the automated captions. Which usually suck so bad that I usually don’t even try them anymore.) But I’m reblogging here for the commentary.
I did my best with a transcription for you, and for anyone else who wanted one. It’s long, and I don’t know how to cut in a video post (sorry!)
Good afternoon, everyone!
It’s more like good evening, because it’s after three.
Anyway I’m happy to be here to talk to you. I want to talk about the politeness of people with intellectual disability. But before that I’m gonna talk a little bit about my life.
When my mother had me, I was born intellectually challenged. We talk about fearlessness – well, my mother didn’t fear anything. She had seven children, and of course when I came she was told, “Well, this one you’re gonna have to institutionalize; it probably won’t live that long,” and of course my mom read the spell [?], and she said, “Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me what to do. I’ll raise my children.” Well, my mother had dreams and hopes just like any other mother. She wanted me to grow up, like my other six siblings who were living (two deceased and one adopted, which would have made ten children) but she wanted me to grow up and go to school, and her dream was for me to graduate from high school.
Like any other child, I had dreams. I wanted to be an athlete, I wanted to be a nurse. And I wanted to be a veterinarian. Well, two of my dreams, I knew wasn’t gonna happen, because of all the naysays that came around. “You’re not gonna do this. You’re not gonna graduate from high school. You’re in a segregated class.” I was segregated outside on the playground. I heard a man talking earlier about playgrounds for everyone: inclusionary playgrounds. Well, when it comes to a child who is intellectually challenged, there’s not much of a playground for them, but to be bullied and teased and be the cheaterball of everybody’s joke. Well as time went by, my mom’s dreams were fulfilled. I graduated high school, but I was still living a violent, angry life. I remember going to the dentist with my sisters and brothers. And she took all five of us girls, and the dentist would look at four of them, and sad, “Oh yes,” when he got to me, “oh, we can’t treat her. You need to take her to the clinic.” Of course, my mom being the broad person she was, she didn’t take no slack from nobody. [crowd chuckles] But of course, sometimes she failed. There was a time, when I was going to be institutionalized, [that] two schools I was going to go to were now closed. And she was [adamant] that her child was going to be educated in the same school system as her other six children who were living. “You got a special education class here, you gonna educate my child.” My mom was fearless. And you couldn’t be fearless of her, ‘cause she was big. [crowd laughs] And when she talked, she was like Yeff Hutton (?); she ain’t gonna take no back-snap from nobody. And when she said “be quiet, shut up,” she meant it. She could pick you out of a crowd. Talk about being fearless. This woman was fearless. She was fearless in her community, and she was fearless for her seven young children. Even though she had welfare. Even though there wasn’t much food. But she meant what she meant, and she meant for her children to be their best. Of course, I’m ~~~ anger, taking a lot of psychotropic drugs. It was coming time for me to branch out.
I was going to a workshop, when a man approached me and says, “Do you know there’s a program called ‘Special Olympics?’” I didn’t speak. And no, I didn’t use sign language. [signs this last sentence as she says it] And I remember him saying to me, “We want you to come out for this program.” And of course, me and myself, mean, angry, all I looked like was like this [jump to 3:50 for her facial expression]. I could care less, because I knew I was the bread end of a joke. I got into Special Olympics, a free program. Of course, it offered sports and training competitions – at the time, they used this word; this word is not to be used now – for the retarded. Now we use terms like “people who have intellectual disabilities.” When I first got into Special Olympics, it was one day. Now it’s all year. 180 countries. It’s providing more than support. It’s providing something I was denied: healthcare.
Just a month ago, I was up at the Clinton Global Initiative, to speak about people being denied healthcare who have intellectual disabilities. Of course, people come to the platform with about people how to treat it [?]. There’s not enough food, clean water. You know the logistics of what people came [?], but for the first time, somebody with an intellectual disability was able to get up and speak to the world about people who have the needs and the […] of healthcare for people who have intellectual disability.
Wise up folks. It’s happening here in the U.S. of A. [signs “U-S-A”], that people are still being denied. And when I think about people being fearless, today, when I get out there and fight, I’m fearless. I didn’t think I was able to give back. I was told what I wasn’t going to be. There was supposed to be a gentleman here today, Mr. Tim Schriver, was supposed to speak on fearlessness and he says, “I’m not the person to speak. Loretta, you are.” And I never thought I could be fearless. Yes, I do fear still today. I do fear the future. Because I know, right in this country, healthcare for the regular population, how we are challenging to get decent healthcare [?].
So yes. I am growing older, and I do have fears just like everyone else, about how I’m gonna be treated, and about how people with intellectual disabilities around this country and around the world are gonna be treated. Because if we don’t have good healthcare, we have nothing. You can have all you want in this world, you can have the best of food, but if you don’t have good health, then care for yourself. We don’t have humanity.
And now when I look at Special Olympics, I’ll always think back: “Why would somebody like Miss Eunice Kennedy Schriver, who came fom a prominent family, think about somebody who was intellectually challenged?” Yes, she had a sister who was intellectually challenged, but she went beyond that in 1968, when she knocked on the gates, and she says, “You know what? I’m gonna take my chance.” In 1962 she had a camp in her yard. Society told her, “Nonononono, those people don’t belong.” People like me belonged in institutions. Warehoused. For a crime we didn’t commit – basically imprisoned. And here was a woman who stood out. And I’ve always wanted to ask her – we were great, great friends, and I never got to ask her this question: “Eunice, did you ever fear of what people would think of you doing something for a population of people who were not supposed to be thought of?” I wished I would’ve had the chance to ask that question of her, and I didn’t.
I have to rely on faith. I have to rely on being fearless, and for me to be fearless for people with intellectual disability, I have to trust in my faith, trust in my faith in others, [and] trust in my faith in good people in my life. And yes, when I think about Mrs. Schriver, she took a chance, and she wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t afraid to be fearless, no matter what stepped in front of her. And that’s how I feel today. I’m not afraid to be fearless, whether it’s going up against the President of the United States, or talking to Congress, or talking to Senate. People ask me all the time [drops to a whisper], “Loretta, aren’t you afraid of that?” And I say, “No. No, I guess this is the job God gave me to do.” When I look back on my life, I was supposed to be [afraid]. But today, I look at my life, and I look at so many lives, so many people being involved with people with intellectual disability.
And when I look at Special Olympics today, I think about unified sports, with people with regular abilities com[ing] into the school or into the community and play[ing] with people with intellectual disability. I look at Project Unify, where we come in and talk [to] young people in schools, where they are being bullied, with intellectual disabilities and regular abilities, talking about just their own issues. […], I heard a principal, with tears talking to me, he said, “Loretta, since we started Project Unify, where our regular students come in and talk to the students with special needs – we had one girl that wouldn’t come to school anymore – and because of that, today bullying has went down 60% in our school.” Sixty percent. Bullying is a big issue.
So today, when I look and see where Special Olympics is going, whether it’s healthcare, whether it’s people being in the community, whether it’s for a child to play in the park, whether it’s for somebody to get their own apartment, to advocate, to be fearless, I have to have something in my mind, and beside me. I put my strength, and I put my faith in God, that I can be fearless, on behalf of Eunice, on behalf of Special Olympics, on behalf of all people with intellectual disabilities, so when I look around, that one day, I won’t have to have a job to fight. I won’t have to be fearless that one day, I’ll be able to walk down the street, and look at this person, and think of them as a person, instead of a person with an intellectual disability, as a person to be a part of your community, of my community.
Being fearless is hard. And I’ll be the first one to tell you about it, because I don’t know what it is not to be fearful. I’ve always grown up to be fearful. Fearful of what life is gonna give me. Fearful of what’s gonna happen in the future. But now today, I’m proud to say that I am fearless, not for Loretta, but for the world of all people. So I would like to thank each and every one of you here, and I hope you will go home, if you fear something today, keep your faith, keep faith in yourself, keep faith in what you believe, and you’re gonna be fearless. Thank you so much. Good luck. Thank you. God bless.
Reblogged for transcription.
Also reblogged to thank the people who transcribe and describe things when I can’t always do it. I feel really bad when I’m not able to provide transcriptions, captions, etc. to things that I post.
And… I really, really like the way that people step up and do things like that for each other. That’s the way communities should work. Not that people who can’t do this should be blamed, but there’s a lot right when people are doing these things, including things like providing cognitively-accessible translations for each other, all kinds of things are possible when people do what we can, where we can.