A neighbour of mine has an adult son with a severe learning disability, who was called for his vaccine recently. He was happy to go but one of the things he doesn’t do is wait or join queues. When he arrived at the vaccination centre, he bounded to the front of the queue, sleeve rolled up ready for his jab. The staff very quietly and calmly guided him straight to a vaccinator who jabbed him and he was out within minutes. No one in the queue objected. The neighbour, who is a volunteer at another vaccination centre, tells me they have all been given guidance on how to deal with situations like this. Wonderful.
Reasonable adaptations – not so hard once we all think about it a bit, eh?
The unreasonable man of reason
There is a marvellous clip circulating on social media of Irish radio presenter Brendan O’Connor taking apart scientist Richard Dawkins for his comments about Down syndrome.
In a notorious Twitter exchange, Dawkins had been asked by a woman about the ethical dilemma she would face if she found out her unborn child would have Down syndrome. Dawkins’ reply was: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” In the interview, O’Connor, who has a child with Down syndrome, calmly asks Dawkins, as a man who prides himself as a voice of reason and logic, for the scientific reasoning for his belief it is “immoral” to bring a disabled child into the world.
In the interview, O’Connor, who has a child with Down syndrome, calmly asks Dawkins, as a man who prides himself as a voice of reason and logic, for the scientific reasoning for his belief it is “immoral” to bring a disabled child into the world.
“I’m not having an emotional discussion with you here – I’m simply trying to have a logical discussion.” Priceless. Watch on Facebook at https://tinyurl.com/y74szc2b.
Confirming your beliefs
Once, during a medical check-up, I was involved in a comical sequence of events after thinking that the doctor had asked me to do a hearing test when in fact he had asked me to do a urine test. It ended with me on the wrong side of a toilet door holding a specimen jar to my ear, thinking that the doctor wanted to test my hearing by shouting through the door while each ear was covered in turn by the jar. I recount this event only to make the point that what psychologists call confirmation bias is extremely powerful.
Once we form a belief about something, it becomes very hard for any amount of reason, logic or evidence to shift it. People like Dawkins, who present themselves as apostles of objective scientific evidence, are just as prone to it as anyone else. Dawkins has got it into his head that babies with Down syndrome bring suffering into the world and nothing will shift the great rationalist in his irrational belief.
Maul or fall?
I spend an afternoon in an online meeting with the sportswomen and men of International Mixed Ability Sports (see pages 16-17 for more about them). Most of the group have learning disabilities and their involvement in mixed ability sport (with no compromise over the rules) gives them a terrific sense of camaraderie, sustained by Zoom meetings during lockdown.
When we meet, a large rugby player introduces himself to me as “Paul the Maul”. “More like Paul the Fall,” heckles one of his fellow players. His return to the rugby field is imminent, so we will soon know whether he mauls or falls. Either way, I suspect he’ll have a great time.