Thursday, November 12, 2015

Frustration on two fronts

It's been a frustrating week for people with severe disabilities in these parts.

At least that's my view. Others here are convinced that things are just hunky dory.

Here's item #1

Our local human rights non-profit for people with disabilities that presumes to enable people with physical, cognitive and mental disabilities to the fullest extent possible for them in the mainstream community just sent me one of their periodic email announcements.  Those mailings are always one of two sorts:
  1. An invitation to a fund-raising dinner, or
  2. A self-congratulatory note for some achievement which they deem earth-shattering.
Those self-horn-tooting missives rile me since their idea of "earth shattering" is extremely divergent from mine.
So, for instance, this week, the news they blared was that a young man with high-functioning Asperger syndrome won his release from  guardianship. The guardian had been appointed by his parents who, along with their son, subsequently regretted that move. This "independent young man who stands up for himself and his opinions" wanted to make his own decisions. To that end, he attended a year-long training program in supported-decision-making run by this non-profit. Now after that "long process" (a year is "long"?), he won his freedom. The young man even delivered a speech on the topic to our parliamentary Constitution Law and Justice Committee.

Now this is undeniably a heart-warming story. But it's so easy to champion the rights of those who are mildly or nearly not-at-all disabled. That's really child's play.

This very same non-profit refuses to tackle the problem of institutionalization of severely disabled babies, children and adolescents locked up in large institutions. It doesn't question the millions of government dollars in grants, of land allotments, of supportive visits and messages by government officials given those institutions.

I've been told by their employees that the reason they won't touch that issue is that a major donor of theirs also supports many of those institutions. It's that "bottom line" rearing its ugly head again.

I felt like puking when I heard that excuse a couple of years ago.

And item #2

I've been calling every relevant government body and non-profit I can find to solicit their reaction to a program that operates at our largest network of institutions for people with disabilities. It involves busing 26 "non-violent" prisoners from a half dozen prisons to work one-on-one with young adults living in one of those institutions.

Now I find this arrangement - rehabilitation of prisoners on the backs of our most vulnerable sector - infuriating. Three times a week, for several hours each time, these residents - who are incapable of giving consent themselves - are used, to quote the institution, to motivate prisoners to rejig their moral compasses and focus outwards. Or as the CEO of the place put it: A great way to rehabilitate prisoners.

So far, my investigations have failed to unearth another program like this one anywhere else in the world. I figure there must be a good reason for that.

Moreover, the prisoners in the program (all male and all labeled "non-violent" whatever that means) are barred from contact with female or minor* residents of this institution and from entering the hydrotherapy pool. I figure there must be a good reason for that too.

*Bear in mind that the "adult" residents function on the level of children.

And, finally, no such program exists here in any school for non-disabled children. Again, there's probably a good reason for that too. 

So far, every office I've contacted has passed the buck to another one. ("This isn't our domain"; "You mentioned that you're a freelance journalist so we can't help you"; "So what is it you feel is wrong with this program?"; "You need our spokesperson but she's not in today.")

Remember, all I want is a reaction. I'm not asking anybody to do anything.

If any of you would care to, please weigh in on this abomination below. A supportive comment would help my cause.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I have no reaction other than to say that it does indeed sound like an abomination. I think you should contact my friend Jeneva Burroughs Stone who always has something intelligent to add to any discussion about the disabled and government programs. Email me at elsophie@gmail for her contact information.

When I read about this prisoner exchange program, I thought at first that you were joking. I have heard of prisoners being used to train DOGS to be service animals, but what the hell? There's something so dehumanizing about it -- let's pair two of the most vulnerable populations together so that we can get out of being civil servants.