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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Naive in the Extreme

Last night I read a short essay by Maria Yang titled "People with overt disabilities: Are we more forgiving of their behavior". Link: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/01/people-overt-disabilities-forgiving-behavior.html Yang describes a flight she took in which a man with Down Syndrome was on the same plane and in the same row of seats. The man is described as child-like, naive, and socially inappropriate.  During the boarding process and flight people tolerate the presence of the man with Down Syndrome. His difference was obvious and Yang concluded people are kind. There are no significant insights in Yang's short essay. Yet I was annoyed by the tenor of Yang's essay. First, the man she described is a stereotype. The adult with Down Syndrome who has child-like enthusiasm for life. Second, I was discouraged by the following quote: "We judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others by their actions. For people with overt disabilities or deformities, we are more forgiving of their behaviors because we are more charitable about their intentions. Why do we not do the same for those people whose deformities or disabilities are not visible?"

I could not disagree with Yang more. First, she embraces a charity model of disability. This may or may not be the case but the charity has a central place in her essay. All passengers and airline employees were kind to the man in question. This is wonderful but a rarity. Thus I wonder would airline employees and passengers be as charitable if the person in question was not the stereotype for Down Syndrome. What if this man wanted to hug people instead of saying hi? What if this man spoke in a very loud voice? I do not think the response would have been charitable but rather hostile.  Second, I am taken aback by the line "we are more forgiving of  their behavior because we are more charitable about their intentions". Sorry but no. Charity is often absent when a disabled person is present. Moreover, the history of disability is littered with one nightmare after another usually accompanied by the belief it was in the best interests of people with a disability. Think Buck v. Bell and Willowbrook. Our social system remains hostile to the inclusion of all people with a disability. More to the point I have no interest in charity. We people with a disability do not want charity but rather equality.  We want and value the same things those within the mainstream do and thoughtlessly take for granted. We people with a disability are not a foil so typical people, those without cognitive and physical disabilities,  can feel good about themselves and be "charitable". 

No doubt Yang meant well. Yet based on this single short essay she appears to be hopelessly naive about disability based discrimination that abounds. I am willing to suggest Yang has likely never been on a plane and seated next to a man with Down Syndrome. Based on her experience she assumes much. The passenger and airline crew were polite to this young man and that must be the norm. It is not the norm. It is in fact the exception. When people with a disability, any disability, fly the odds of having a routine travel experience are remote. As I have noted many times, the airline industry has a deeply ingrained bias against people with a disabilities. Overwhelmingly negative experience are the norm. It is easy to find such stories in news papers and on line because they happen every day. People with a host of cognitive disabilities have been prevented from boarding because they represent a flight risk.  Expensive custom made wheelchairs are often broken. People with a host of physical disabilities are routinely humiliated. I for one have crawled off more than one airplane in frustration after an interminable wait for assistance. In recent years I have been asked "can't you walk a little bit".  When the reply is no stunned silence ensues.

I wonder about Yang. Why does she accepts a charity model of disability? Does she really think the trouble free experience the man with Down Syndrome she described is the norm?  At an abstract level I understand why Yang likes a charity model of disability. It feels good to give to the needy, poor, and disabled. It feels good to be kind to the less fortunate. Yang felt good about herself and willingness to be kind to the man with Down Syndrome. That was a mere few hours of her life.  And this is where I get frustrated. The "charitable" experience she described does reflect the reality of life with a disability as I know and experience it.  Thus when I cry foul as I am doing here others, typical able bodied others, often deem me bitter and angry.  This is neat little trick. In classifying people with a disability such as myself that expect to be treated equally and with respect as bitter or angry individualizes the perceived "problem". This obscures and undermines the issue--the violation of the civil rights of people with a disability. Rights protected by a myriad of laws and enforced by the Department of Justice.  If there is a problem it is that we as a society do not value the enforcement of these laws. Now that is something I hope Yang and others are willing to think about. To do so requires a leap in logic too many are unwilling to make.

7 comments:

Lynn said...

Oh, ughhh... the author is a psychiatrist (i.e. ought to be equipped to view wide range of differences in cognition and/or mental health with insight and without bias), and yet she talks about a person with DS like this? "He waved his phone at me like it was a baby rattle." Really?

All I took from the article is that I like Michael a whole lot better than either of his seatmates.

william Peace said...

Lynn, Astute comment as always. I was taken aback by the tone and tenor of the essay. Agree, I would prefer the company of Michael.

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke said...

Well said, Bill. Equality and respect. Would that we could get this point through with our task force...


Teresa Blankmeyer Burke said...

Well said, Bill. Equality and respect. Would that we could get this point through with our task force...


lauredhel said...

Wow, that is one terrible, terrible essay.

"The extra copy of chromosome 21 did not diminish the love father had for son." *vomits*

Hannah Matilda said...

And this person is a psychiatrist. Which is why, when my husband suggests that we need to see a counselor for our marital problems, I refuse at least to see a counselor who is able-bodied. Won't do it. He will be reading this essay by the way and your well written as usual post. Thank you.

Hannah Matilda said...

This person is the reason I refuse to see a psychiatrist, at least any that are able-bodied. My husband has in the past suggested this for our marital difficulties, but I just say no. Won't do it. By the way, he will be reading this essay and your as usual, well-written and thoughtful post. Thank you so much.