Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thinking About Institutional Care

Here is a clip with a powerful message that a friend just sent me. Admittedly it interviews people with Downs who function at the very highest end of the Downs spectrum. Nevertheless, their stories should raise our expectations and enhance our appreciation of everyone with cognitive disabilities.

Even in the 21st century, Western society's attitudes towards this population leaves much to be desired. Newborn Downs babies are still abandoned in the hospital by their parents. Those who are institutionalized are are still victimized in myriad shocking ways.

A young man I know well works in a hostel for autistic and retarded young men. He relates that they are consistently fed sub-standard food. Most of the fresh fruits and vegetables are rotten or spoiled since they are obtained at the end of the trading day from the discarded produce. This young man sifts through them to remove the few edible items in order to prepare a salad.

Moreover, he is on notice from the hostel director that when a visit from a government supervisor is expected, he must ensure that the sub-standard food has vanished.

A neighboring woman is hired to cook meals for the residents. On one occasion the cooked food that she provided rendered all the residents ill with food poisoning. Another time, he detected a strong stench from the woman's food and opted not to serve it. He set it aside and informed his supervisor of its status. He subsequently learned that, several days later, when he wasn't on duty, that same food was reheated and served to the boys.

The hostel is run by a high-profile charity that receives substantial donations from individuals both locally and overseas. The management, as often happens, is controlled by the members of a single family. This leaves you, rightly or wrongly, with the feeling that whatever is not spent on food ends up in someone's private pocket.

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