Sara Wolff is a motivational speaker and advocate for individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Sara herself has Down syndrome, and I interviewed her about her experiences growing up, becoming a public speaker, working as a law clerk and as a professional advocate, about the friendships and other important relationships in her life, and about her hopes for her own future. In this excerpt from our January 2013 interview, Sara shares a story about a friend who once bullied her in high school.
Sara Wolff: I have different ways to communicate with people.
Nicki Pombier Berger: What do you mean?
Sara: Like, I talk about a lot of things with people that no one knows that I say. I'm usually quiet at home, I don't want to talk much here. I keep stuff in. I don't want my parents to worry about me. That's the thing. Like, it's okay to be worried, it's just I know they're parents, but. Sometimes they have to let go. And that's hard for them.
Nicki: What about when you were in high school, were you quiet at home?
Sara: Mm-hmm. I keep stuff in. I never told anyone about one time that I was bullied.
Nicki: In high school?
Nicki: You never told anyone?
Nicki: Except me now?
Nicki: Do you want to tell me about what happened?
Sara: Someone was making fun of me, and I kind of kept quiet, I didn't want to make a big deal about it, it was something small really. When I get bored, I get fidgety sometimes. Like, I play with my eyelashes when I'm bored, but I listen at the same time. So my friend was doing this, too, making fun of me the way I was doing it. And I had this look that would, what’s the word I'm looking for? Shut her up. I gave her a look. My nostrils flared up. And that was it. I did it the other day, to a friend. I wanted to give her something and she didn't want to take it, so I did that look, that serious look, my nostrils flared, and she was like, "Ooh, Sara! You look serious!" [Laughs] Yeah, I am serious. So, she did keep it.
Nicki and Sara: [Laughter]
Nicki: So you gave that look, and your friend—
Sara: We stopped being friends.
Nicki: So you gave that look that to me says, like, I'm angry, this is disrespectful, what are you doing? But on the inside, were you feeling strong and angry, or were you feeling—
Sara: Both. Both.
Nicki: Was it hurtful?
Sara: No. It made me feel good ‘cause I'm, you know, helping myself, but yet, you're wearing the person down, which is good.
Read Sara’s stories here:
This is a transcribed, edited excerpt from a life history interview I conducted for my thesis in the Oral History Master of Arts program at Columbia University, in which Sara Wolff shared with me her life experiences and reflected on her role as an advocate for herself and others with disabilities. The full interview was conducted on January 5, 2013, in Moscow, Pennsylvania, and will be submitted to the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California, Berkeley, for inclusion in the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement archive. I will also submit a methodological paper providing context for and analysis of my process conducting and sharing life history interviews with self-advocates with Down syndrome to the Academic Commons at Columbia University. If you would like to know more about my process, please contact me here. With gratitude to the National Down Syndrome Society for their early support of this project.