The Community’s Role in Supporting People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

The worst thing you can do for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability is to not hold them to the same standards we hold ourselves and others.

I was at a grocery store the other day and asked for a bag of ice. The gentleman working there appeared to have a developmental or intellectual disability. Though I asked for a 20 pound bag, he brought me a 5 pound bag.

It is easy and maybe natural to wonder if this mistake was related to a disability. It is common however, for people of all abilities to make mistakes. There is also the chance that the man helping me was new to the job and poorly communicated to the gentleman the weight of ice I needed.Grocery Store Check-Out

We are all faced with this sort of dilemma, and as technologies, supports, and attitudes improve, we will be faced with it more often. We need to consider how our behavior will impact this person’s life.

When presented with the bag of 5 pound ice, I knew I had two options. I could ignore it and pretend like a 5 pound bag was what I wanted, or I could correct the situation.

Some believe that correcting the situation is insensitive and rude because the gentleman has a disability. But ignoring the misunderstanding does not benefit anyone.

I smiled, looked at the clerk that directed the gentleman to get the bag of ice, then said, “Sorry, but I wanted the large bag of ice. I would really appreciate it if you could grab me the other bag instead.”

If I were to just take the 5 pound bag of ice, then I wouldn’t get what I came to the store for. Also, the clerk doesn’t learn how to communicate effectively and the gentleman grabbing the bag, doesn’t improve at his job.

It is much easier to say, “Can you please grab me a 20 pound bag of ice?” instead of “Can you grab me a bag of ice?”

Be direct in what you want and be courteous. There is nothing wrong with asking for what you need, but you just need to do it the right way. Regardless if the clerk or I miscommunicated, or the gentleman misunderstood, it was a simple miscommunication.

Now, more than ever, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are working in places that we visit every day. If the person that brought back the ice had not looked like they had a disability, would you have asked for the right bag? Most people would say yes, so what is the difference? There is no difference. If this person with a disability is working and is told to get a bag of ice, then they can understand how to get the correct one.

The most disrespectful thing we can do in situations like this one is to say “forget it, I’ll get it myself.” That proves that we don’t have any expectations for him, that he can’t do the job after all, and that we don’t want him to be better at his job. At the very least, we need to hold people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to the same standards we would hold ourselves to. At most, we need to recognize that the lack of experience and supports comes from years of institutionalized neglect and questionable supports. Thinking about our interactions for a few extra seconds is the least we can do.

Would you ask for the right size bag of ice?

Hannah Juracek Picture

Hannah Juracek

Team ILC

Photo credit: Polycart / Foter / CC BY