The following is a guest post from Emily Jacobs, a student at Muhlenberg College. It is a college essay inspired by her sister Molly that she submitted and we are excited to share as another inspiring example of one person’s ability to make a difference. Enjoy.
by Emily Jacobs
I’ve always had a personal issue with the word “retard.” My sister Molly lives with an intellectual disability, a condition that used to be called mental retardation. There are many online sites devoted to mocking the intellectually disabled, but one series of YouTube videos proved particularly troubling. Although I wanted to believe that hatred towards the intellectually disabled had become obsolete, these videos exposed me to a cruel reality, one that I had no choice but to combat.
“Retard Mechanic” features Donald, an intellectually disabled man who works as a janitor in an auto repair shop. Donald is videotaped by his co-workers who humiliate him daily. They attach his finger to jumper cables and have him emulate screaming noises for the camera. Worse, they pay him a dollar in quarters for his compliance; when Donald’s performance isn’t up to par, they tell him he is only “giving them ten cents worth of retard.” They force him to lift his shirt while they criticize his physique, taunt him by waving money in his face, and steal his dustpan so that he can’t work. Donald is unaware that his co-workers are victimizing him.
Something about this man’s vulnerability struck a chord in me. Watching Donald, I fast-forwarded 25 years and pictured Molly working a job where she considered her co-workers friends while they saw her as fodder for their cruel pranks. Donald’s mistreatment was an indirect affront to all people with intellectual disabilities, and so I decided to do something about it.
The videos of Donald showed little visible evidence of where he worked. I scrutinized each clue from the videos and found that I was looking for a Mazda dealership in California. Since many of the videos were shot outside I was able to spot passing trucks with the area code 415. Thanks to Google maps, I found the street address of the specific dealership, complete with the same buildings that served as the backdrop of Donald’s humiliation.
Yet I still had reservations. As a teenager, would the manager of the Mazda dealership take me seriously? Did I want the workers fired for their abuse or did I want them to be educated? I knew I couldn’t have both. Firing them wouldn’t change the world for Donald or Molly; it might make their antagonists more hateful. My hope was that these workers would start to see Donald as a human being and treat him accordingly.
It was at this point that I asked my mother to call the dealership. After watching the videos, the manager’s initial disbelief quickly dissipated and he promised to identify the perpetrators. He also promised to remove the videos from the internet and provide sensitivity training for his employees. Finally, he told my mother that Donald had recently passed away. There are two new employees with intellectual disabilities working at the dealership and the manager vowed to provide a safe working environment for them.
Though it was too late for me to make the world a better place for Donald, I take comfort that future employees will enjoy the dignity and respect to which he was never afforded.
By doing my part to increase awareness about intellectual Disabilities, I’d like to think I made a difference for the Donald’s and Molly’s of this world. And while I realize that equality is a far cry away, I hope these small victories along the way take us in the right direction.