Have you ever been to parties, meetings or picnics where the person you are speaking with seems to know your thoughts and what you are trying to say? Yet you know they don’t really understand or know what you are talking about. Doesn’t that just irritate and frustrate you at the same time? It does me. Maybe they think they are really listening; they look at me while we speak, but their minds are elsewhere - thinking about going to the grocery store or to the bank or what to fix for supper that night, etc. Do they realize their actions could be misconstrued as rudeness or disinterest?
What’s worse, nothing is more frustrating than someone trying to speak for me during a conversation. I don’t think they realize this; maybe they mistakenly think they are being helpful, when they are actually hindering the conversation. Despite people's good intentions in helping me speak, in the long run, I just want to say “thank you, but I am a college graduate and I can speak for myself.”
If I really said that, would they stop and take notice? Maybe - or maybe not. Often, people seem too busy to take the time to stop and listen anymore, especially to a person who has a disability and a speech impediment. If these individuals would just listen to people with disabilities, they would know that we have something to tell them.
People with disabilities know what they want to say, although it may take longer to finish a conversation. But given a chance to speak, it will be worth the wait. As for me, remember, when we are conversing, don’t be in a hurry and begin speaking for me - instead, step back and listen. You might just learn from me!
Karen Stallings, Community Liaison NC, is the Executive Director of the Association of Self-Advocates of North Carolina, and is a writer and an actress currently working on her autobiography.