Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Does equal treatment of people with intellectual disability mean slamming them on Facebook?

The woman posted the seemingly innocent comment in our local Facebook group: Wouldn't it be great if a Cracker Barrel opened in our area? It would bring in business. She asked what others thought.

Cracker Barrel is pretty divisive because of its history of discrimination, and the fact that some consider its food gross. Group members did not hold back. Among the more tame comments:
"Yuck" and "A vomitorium of yucks" and "Is this a joke?" and "Booo." There was snark: "How about they open a strip club called The Chick Barrel?" and "Ha! Hahaha! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!" and "How does admin even allow this obscene post?" And there was annoyance: "Ewww the suggestion itself is disgusting" and "This may be the worst idea since an unnamed politician tried to put up a KFC."

Some people were for the idea. A few suggested an alternate, more commercialized location. Yet others were more interested in bringing a Waffle House to town. As is typical on Facebook, people spoke up bluntly.

The woman's Facebook photo looked vaguely familiar. I checked out a few posts on her page and sure enough, I'd met her at a fair. She has mild intellectual disability.

I felt a flash of anger toward the people who were ripping apart her suggestion. I tagged her in a comment, telling her that I understood liking that food (their biscuits are tasty) and that she probably wasn't aware of their history of discrimination. I suggested a good local Southern place.

Still, I bristled. I wanted the group to know that they were dealing with a person with ID, and that they shouldn't go off on her.

The post racked up 198 comments, including a followup from the woman. "Never knew about the discrimination they have," she wrote.

I went to sleep all riled up. Then it occurred to me: If people had treated her gingerly and refrained from being their usual opinionated/obnoxious selves, then she wouldn't have been treated like an equal.

I wondered if this woman felt taken aback or offended. I hoped that she was used to how things went in the group, and that she knew it was just business as usual. I thought about Max. He may require special accommodations at times, but in general, I want him treated the same as other people, sans the kid gloves. That would mean, in essence, that when and if he is ready to post his opinions in such a group, he'd need to be prepared for people's assorted reactions.

For now, I would not subject Max to online communities, unless I found ones with other teens who have intellectual disability. I let Max make as many decisions as possible, but as his parent, I know this is the right Internet security for him. If he were in some sort of teen group with typically developing peers and he posted something like "I love fire trucks!" I can easily see him getting flamed. The relative anonymity of these groups means that people do not know who they are interacting with, a negative for a teen like Max.

But if someday he is ready to face the opinionated masses on Facebook or the social media of his choice, well, I'll be all for it.


  1. Oddly, I am finding the Thikning Person's guide post just posted today as being very responsive to your post and concerns. I think this woman seems to have posted an opinion and gotten standard response and learned something in the process. There's the unthinking incivility that happens on the FB, which is always inappropriate, regardless of whether the post originator is disabled or not. But, as is the case for a young woman I know with ID, part of her strength is not to be as hyperaware as your average teen of what other people will think of her when she voices her opinion. Yes, this might be part of her ID, but it also serves her well in many instances. She asks questions when she wants to know the answer without censoring herself. She asks for things she wants or help she needs. Those are good things that I want every teen to learn.

  2. The thing is that many people have a favorite....resturant,author,actor ect who has done something problematic but they haven't heard about it. That is not just something that happens to people with intellectual disabilities. I think most of us have that moment at some point of realizing wow this thing I've liked since 6th grade is horrible. I hadn't heard anything about discrimination at Cracker Barrel. I think, despite the instinct to protect, when we automatically attribute something to someone's disability we are participating in "othering" them. They aren't allowed to just be a person who wasn't aware of something. Sometimes being treated just like everyone else, even if that means a lot of ribbing and blunt comments feels a lot better than being treated differently.


Thanks for sharing!

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