"When people meet me for the first time, lots of them don't know how to react," begins a video featuring a woman named Jess Thom. Her sentences are peppered with tics and nonsensical phrases and words like "biscuit" and "cat" because Thom has Tourette syndrome (TS).
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines TS as a "neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics." The symptoms of TS are involuntary, and people often feel a buildup of tension if they try to suppress them. Tics can include profanity, shouting, or other movements and expressions that might draw unwanted attention to a person with TI when they are out in public.
A natural reaction to encountering such a person might be to laugh, but most, understandably, feel a need to hold back chuckles for fear of offending. While many people with disabilities do not appreciate laughter, Thom takes a different stance. She sees laughter simply as a sign that people don't know how to interact with those different from themselves.
"Last year, research by Scope found that two thirds of the British population, that's 67 percent, feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people," says Thom in the video above. "And at the same time, recorded instances of hate crime against disabled people have increased by a staggering 41 percent in just one year."
Thom, who works with children, has noticed kids are much more willing to laugh and ask questions and listen to her answers than adults. But by looking the other way, or by being nervous to interact with Thom, adults are missing out on an opportunity to engage in interesting conversation, learn more about her, and acknowledge the barriers she experiences as a person with a disability.
In other words, Thom sees laughter as a gateway to opening up a dialogue that fosters acceptance and tolerance.
"I used to think that attitude change was a long, drawn out process," Thom says as a final thought in the video. "But I've learned that it can happen very quickly, and it often starts with a single conversation. Ta-da! As soon as we stop shying away from differences, we can start to appreciate our similarities."
(H/T: The Guardian)