Saturday, August 04, 2007





Slumped back in the chair distractively answering the questions like I was the stupidest person on earth. Hair dyed bright yellow, not blond, yellow. Cell phone flipped open, reading texts as they came in. I didn't know if I should put down as his primary diagnosis 'mild intellectual disability' or 'profoundly teen.'

Teens with a disability are a whole new breed from what I'm used to. "We found for integration and inclusion and got ... this." I thought as I continued on with the intake meeting. Then he looked up at me and said, "So why are you in the wheelchair?" I made a joke, "Because I can't walk." He took it as an answer rather than an attempt at sarcasm - which I thought he'd enjoy - you know, speaking in his native tongue. So I let it drop and continued on.

"Ask me why I didn't sit beside you." Once again he was looking intently at me. I had noticed that he sat a bit away but I thought that's so he could drape his lanky body over three chairs in the meeting room. "I'm ok with where you are sitting." I said and attempted to go on. "No, ask me."

"Why did you sit over there rather than here by me?"

"Because I don't like sitting next to people in wheelchairs." That caught me off guard, to be honest it also pissed me off a bit, and I think my feelings showed in my face, he saw them and continued, "I feel sorry for you guys, being disabled an all."

I so, so, SO wanted to say, "Yeah, well so are you."

But I didn't. Sometimes I think that part of my fee is for restraining myself and corralling my tongue. I just said, "Oh," and went on. As the interview continued it swung round to issues regarding his disability and there was no question that he understood that he had an intellectual disability, that my service and the service of his social worker were based on that disability. He had no problems with that at all.

Interestingly I have met many with intellectual disabilities that see those in wheelchairs as having the 'real' disability and see themselves as much different, and in many ways, much better off than their disabled counterparts with physical disabilities.

Ironically, I have also met many with physical disabilities who want to distance themselves very far from those with intellectual disabilities and in ways seeing intellectual disability as the 'real' disability and themselves as much different and better off than any one with an intellectual disability.

Odd, huh?

It's like even in the disability community there is a heirarchy created by those within. It happens in every minority community, ranking people on some internally created yardstick. Pity that we can't all see that our own heirarchy means nothing to bigots - we are all tarred with the same brush, all lumped together into the same stall. And given that we live in forced confinement with each other, wouldn't it be better if instead of ranking we organized ourselves by strengths and modelled the respect we all want.

Parents, too, play part in this. I remember one mom who honestly told me that she always compared her son to others with disabilities and was relieved when the other's disability was more significant. She said that she could relax into the 'at least my son isn't as bad off as him." She said that she was trying to stop thinking that way, that she had to see her son as part of a greater whole and that he fit where he fit without comparisons and without superiority to one and inferiority to another.

Good goal.

Wonder if we'll ever get there.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I see this all the time in my reading of listserves and forums. I think whenever a group has been ostracized, they find the need to create a hierarchy within themselves. No one wants to be "on the bottom rung". And I suppose everyone is used to their own disability and sees it as not as bad as someone else's, it's a matter of perspective.


Anonymous said...

I live in Chico, California. Recently in a free, weekly paper, I read an editorial article that was extremely disturbing.The author used a variety of defamatory language that was shocking to me. I was outraged at the letter, and at the editor for allowing it to be published. Needless to say, there was some public outcry, and the author responded with yet another outrageous letter. The author's name is Anthony Peyton Porter. . .Here is the address to both articles.

I have been working for adults with disabilities for many years, and have seen many types of discrimination. Your writings and lectures have often helped me to better understand the best way to serve my clients. In my fifteen years in this field, I have never felt so outraged and helpless by one person's ignorance. I would deeply appretiate any guidance, words of wisdom, or assistance on this issue. My e-mail is,

Thank You,

Anonymous said...


Off the point here, but even though you're Canadian, I know you occasionally come down to the states for lectures etc, so I assume you pay at least some attention to american disability law as well as Canadian. So you might know the American with Disabilities Act has been repeately weakened and diluted of its original intent in court case after court case.

Well, some us congress reps are trying to address this with the ADA Restoration Act. There's a petition campaign (for US voters to sign) to garner support for it. I'm trying to encourage people to blog about it. (My own blog post on the petition is at") Even though it isn't your country, would you feel comfortable joining in? Perhaps you've heard of stories about how people with intellectual or other disabilities have been failed by the ADA as it is currently interpreted, enforced and implemented?



Dave Hingsburger said...

Alea, I went and read the columns that you highlighted and have written a letter of complaint myself. Why is it that demeaning language is offensive if it's about race or gender or sexuality but similar remarks about disability are acceptable. Forgive me, but Anthony Peyton Porter is a total jerk.

Amanda Forest Vivian said...

I'm a person with autism spectrum disorder and you hear lots of ASD people going around talking about how they're not "retarded" and they don't want to be associated with people who are. Well, one time I was talking to a girl with ID (who didn't realize that I was Autistic) and she contemptuously said that some of the people at her workshop were autistic and made a crazy sign with her finger. I guess I should have been upset but I was actually amused, in a mean sort of way. I wished that ASD people who discriminate against ID people could see that ID people can discriminate against us just as well.