The woman entered the conference room prepared to make a contribution to the committee meeting.
The tables were arranged in a square with seemingly equal sides, but all was not equal.
Two other committee members, one above her economic station and one slightly below, began chattering to each other in a moderate tone of voice while others around them gabbed about the weather, the traffic, whatever.
Then, suddenly, the pair erupted into paroxysms of laughter. When they regained control of themselves, one said to the other, “I hate to sound so heartless.”
Of course, she was still laughing at the time.
This is only the latest in a long line of occurrences to which the disabled must become accustomed on a daily basis.
They also must become accustomed to people they have come to regard as friends making awkward excuses for not spending time with them, for making politically correct excuses for shying away from them at every opportunity.
These so-called friends just can’t be bothered. It would be too risky to have disabled friends. After all, they might be so emotionally stifling that they would become millstones.
A friendship of this nature might lead to unfortunate chatter among one’s able-bodied friends.
Perhaps, it’s time the disabled turned the tables on the fair-weather hypocrites who are turned off by wheelchairs, walkers, prostheses, hearing aids and Prozac.
The disabled could say they just can’t be bothered with their bigoted fellow citizens. It would be too risky to have narrow-minded friends. After all, they might be so emotionally stifling that they would become millstones.
It’s difficult enough to work around mobility issues, hearing issues, seeing issues, mental-health disorders and learning disabilities without having to pole vault over other people’s thinly concealed amoral behavior.
By feigning social acceptance of the disabled until they can stand it no more, able-bodied bigots deprive them of the one thing that experts say they need the most – a devoted support network. Figuring it’s better to be content alone than to be discontent in a crowd, they sometimes prefer isolation.
The one place society doesn’t shun the disabled is on celluloid, but the way they are depicted ranges from realism to condescension to undesired hero status.
Next month, Turner Classic Movies will take a serious look at portrayals of the disabled in the movies with 20 films and commentary that will put it all in context.
We can marvel at the way an entire community shuns Jane Wyman in her performance as a deaf, silent farm girl in “Johnny Belinda.” We can delight in watching Harold Russell, who lost his hands in World War II, stun everyone with the use of his hooks in “The Best Years of Our Lives.”
We can question whether being mentally challenged or being a genius is the bigger disability to an emotionally challenged society in Cliff Robertson’s portrayal of “Charly.” And we can wonder who is more mentally ill – Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy or Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched – in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Or we can keep on making politically correct excuses.