I tossed around whether to write something for it.
I felt uncomfortable because part of me agrees with the critics – is it a celebration of false community; a smiley-face-party-hat-of-froth overlaying deep inequality? This especially stands out for me when I see the functions created by service providers for their ‘clients’ and know the deep lack of power and decision-making that is likely to characterise their relationship with that provider. Part of me squirms wondering if some of these people might be subject to the kind of violence, bullying and abuse that so easily flows in situations where people are vulnerable and power is concentrated. Take the recent case of the worker at Yooralla service in Victoria.
But today has been the catalyst to some reflections and I decided to share them.
IDPwD has made me reflect on all the people with disabilities I know, love, care about, had the opportunity to work with and am associates of. And I do want to celebrate them. Not as inspiration porn or as some ‘object’ of my learning. Not as some false community. We have congregated and segregated people with disability for centuries and a day like today can indeed serve as a way of yet again, bringing people together (literally or figuratively) in a bubble of non-togetherness. I always remember thinking as a kid that the other people my brother lived with in his group home were more different from each other than the same. Matthew always gravitated to certain people and they generally weren’t those he was deemed by others to have something in common with.
No, when I think of these people I see them in my mind’s-eye making their way in life – with all its concomitant joys and ‘I hate-the-world’ periods. Making their way in life through their own local, political, work-related, family, interest-related, religious and (insert your own title here) communities and sub-cultures.
And when I do that, it gets me excited.
Don’t get me wrong. I see everyone I know struggle, feel so frustrated and experience multiple personal rejection. It regularly flattens me. But I have also had the great privilege through these treasured relationships to see what happens in worlds when people with disability are genuinely present. Those worlds change. So through my relationships I have been able to see a world changed. And that is what I want to celebrate. Thank you one and all.
Institutions come big and small. They can be a house with 4 people with disabilities staffed 24 hours a day with ‘carers’. They can be one kid with disability stuck up the back of a classroom learning a separate curriculum glued to an adult ‘support teacher’. They can be our own family desire for creating security, long after we die, by building things to put people in. They can be the leap from “John needs friends” to “Let’s create an Asperger’s social group” rather than “Let’s figure out the kinds of people John might like to meet in his community based on all of John’s inner-ness”.
I know the smell of institutions. I smelled it first when I was 7 years old. I don’t want anyone else to know that smell. All the so-called solutions above smell like that to me. A mixture of urine, wipe-down-plastic-furniture and industrial cleaner. They smell of distance and rejection and exclusion. We’re plagued by the notion that building things and creating more services is the solution to the life needs of people.
So I find I have more in common with anyone keen on building a truly-inclusive world. For starters they are a far sexier bunch.
I saw this meme on Facebook recently. It reads “We blame society but we are society.”
Interesting. We can’t expect the world to be more welcoming and inclusive if we are not doing the same. We can’t say society doesn’t accept people as they are while we continue to build segregation. Sometimes I am categorised as part of the community of carers, family members, siblings. But I don’t necessarily consider myself totally part of those communities. I know why many parents seem intent on re-building institutions. I FEEL why they do it. But by doing it we re-create the very world we long would change.
Now I don’t want to go all soppy on you, and I know I said something about inspiration porn, but building a truly-inclusive world, that is a real hard place to be. That is where heartache lies because of course there are many a*^holes in the world and because you still can’t even get in the door most of the time. And because pretty much all the resources are still locked-up in congregated and segregated solutions. They are really up against it. So to choose something different is a very vulnerable and often tiresome place to be. And therefore I think it takes extraordinary courage. Because if it’s the riskier place to be, with possibly much personal cost, then those people I know, love and care about, have to decided to be in that place anyway.
And I want to thank every one of you on this day.