Emma Bishop and Ben Marshall share a house with a friend, are in their 20’s, love each other dearly and have been together for over 6 years. Not surprisingly, they would like to get married. Oh, did I mention that they both have Down Syndrome? This ‘Wonderland’ series documentary from the BBC was an exemplary, sensitive and thought-provoking exploration of how Ben, Emma and (in the background) their parents navigated the terrain of feelings, emotions and practicalities that make up ‘a relationship’ and a marriage.
Emma and Ben struggled out loud with their feelings, thoughts and concerns in a way that should make us pause to reconsider why the word ‘slow’ is used as a term of abuse when learning disability is concerned. Yes, they took time to formulate thoughts and ideas and and to find the right words to express them, and no, they did not act on or act out their every impulse, but in their conversations and deliberations they showed a level of sophistication and thoughtfullness that you could not find with an electron microscope in the ‘reality TV’ ramblings of a hundred ‘Ladettes’, ‘Apprentices’ or ‘Bridezillas’.
Aside from the relational and emotional issues that they faced, the cold realities of a support and benefit system that would penalize them for marrying did not help.
Perhaps more affecting than anything else in this gorgeous film was the sheer love and tenderness that Ben and Emma felt for and showed towards each other. Their every touch, gesture and word was there to help the other and to make their partner feel better and more loved. How could any parent not be gloriously proud of such a son or daughter?
As a ‘Learning Disability’ Nurse from many years back, I often wonder about the arrogant nonsense spouted by the allegedly ‘normal’ world proposing that people with learning disabilities need ‘social skills training’. Really? How many school classrooms are routinely disrupted by students with learning disabilities as opposed to ‘mainstream’ students? How many people with learning disabilities do police and ambulance staff have to cart off to A&E or the cells on a Friday or Saturday night compared to supposedly ‘normal’ clientele? How many companies’ or organisations’ most unproductive, toxic or disruptive workers are those with a learning disability?
It would actually make more sense to employ the Emma’s and Ben’s of this world as social skills trainers for the rest of the supposedly ‘normal’ population.