Wednesday, July 16, 2008

History Quiz

Do you know where you were on September 18th of 1992? What!?! You don't? Well, I do. Arriving home today from work, I found several plaques sitting on my desk. I have received a number of awards over the course of my career and have had a 'wall of frame' for a fairly long time. I even have a lifetime acheivement award! I got it in my late 40's. That felt odd, wonderfully odd, but odd indeed. Anyways, with the move I got permission to hang these awards on my office walls.

But Joe uncovered a couple more today whilst packing. They weren't exactly awards, they were framed mementos from conferences that I've spoken at. One of them was given to me for a series of presentations I did in Puerto Rico in 1992. It immediately brought back wonderful memories. They had struggled and struggled to get the financing and the backing for this conference and they had contacted what they called their, 'dream speakers' ... I was honoured to be amongst that list.

They had me down for one presentation but then called and asked if I could fill in some spots in the programme because they just weren't able to fill them all. I took, not one, but two other spots and assured them that I was just thrilled to be making the trip and hopefully at the same time to be making a difference. (Don't mock me this tritism, it really is true for me.) So, when I arrived, in gratitude for my willingness to do extra work for the same pay, they had put me in a luxury room that the hotel had donated. It was an amazing experience that has made for an amazing set of memories.

From the beginning of my time there until I landed back home I felt welcome. I loved San Juan and I loved the incredible sense of purpose that they managed to create at the conference. As I looked at the plaque I could almost smell the September air. I immediately put it aside and decided to hang it on the wall of my office along with the other awards and mementos.

An hour later I came to write my blog (I have to be up early so I needed to write it tonight and schedule it for tomorrow) and I saw it sitting there. Actually saw it. If you can see detail in the picture, you will notice that there is a 10cent American stamp that has a picture of a little girl and says "Retarded Children Can Be Helped" and then typed underneath is "Mental Retardation Symposium September 18, 19, 20 SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO 1992". Realize when you read this that 1992 is 16 years ago.

Now I'm in a quandary. I know the language on that plaque is of it's time. I know that it represents no ill intent on the part of the committee, no prejudice on the part of the people who gave it to me. In fact, quite the reverse. These were people who were working incredibly hard to improve the lot of those with disabilities. Even so, the picture and words might upset some of those who come into my office, people with disabilities, their families, the staff. But it also might not. Often I worry for nothing. (That's just me! I'm so different.)

So a take a History Quiz:

Should Dave hang this memento that means a lot to him on his office wall?

What say you all?

(I have tried and tried to fix the spacing in the second part of the post, but for some reason blogger is taking out the paragraph breaks. This makes for difficult reading, I'm sorry but I don't know how to fix it. If anyone else uses blogger and has found a solution for this problem could you please let me know.)

26 comments:

Heike said...

Dave - blogger sometimes does this when you insert pictures. My way around it is to type the whole post in Words (including the picture) and then copy and paste it into blogger. Try and see if that helps. Seeing you have the same issue, maybe i should contact them and ask them.

Secondly, yes, i think you should hang it up. The worst thing we can do is deny history, pretend it never happened. History is history, and we should learn from it, not hide it away (says the ex-German). If anyone comments, there you have an excuse to talk about it and explain why we don't use that word any more. It's living history.

Laerke said...

I think you should hang it up too.
If your awards are placed on a timeline, this could lead to some interesting discussions about how things - and words - have changed over time.
And I doubt that nobody would accuse you for using the r-word nowadays anyway.

Tamara said...

I vote for hanging it up, but the word doesn't bother me unless used as a perjorative. I think it was all those music lessons where it was used to tell me to slow down.

Now - while the word doesn't bother me, I really don't like the picture! I think it's the same one that Shawen has on some tee-shirts. When he attended summer school and it was during the county fair, the KCs would give the kids teeshirts. they say "Disability Awareness Day", so I guess there's a Disability Awareness Day at the fair. Then they have that picture and "Caring is our business".

But - to me the little girl in the picture looks sad and pitiful.

And, thanks - I was going to get to work early today, but I had to go find that dang tee-shirt to see if it was the same picture! :-)

Tamara said...

dang - I mispelled pejorative! I hate that!

Anonymous said...

Maybe your readers are the wrong people to survey - what do your clients/consumers think????
Just a thought . . .
Susan Ludwig

Anonymous said...

I too think you should hang it up. We need to view history in context and if that is that terminology that was being used at the time, so be it.

As Heinke said, if anyone comments, you have an opportunity to tell them why we don't use "retarded" anymore.

As a side note, "retard" in french basically means slow so if you think of the "retarded" as slow learners, it doesn't seem so derogatory. So many words in our language have changed their meaning over time, when viewed at a later time and place, it is easy to lose the context.

Cindy B

lina said...

My first thought was yes, - but after reading Susan's comment - I agree, it's the people supported by Vita who should have a say - but my vote is now no, this one is maybe for you to keep at home.

Tamara said...

My vote is yes, hang it up. I do agree that you should seek out the opinion of people with disabilities as well. History is so important. Our world has come so far in the past 50 even 20 years. I am guilty of getting caught up in how much further we have to go (and it is far) and how slow our progress feels. To me items like these are not just a reminder of the past, they are a reminder of the wonderful, trailblazing work that has gotten us this far. I know change can be made and this is what keeps me pushing forward.

FAB said...

I also vote yes Dave. It represents a wonderful memory for you, and it is out of the work that you and others have been doing over the years that have changed our vernacular. We should remember our history lest we be doomed to repeat it, and that certificate helpd to demonstrate not only how far we've come but dares us to imagine how far we are going to get. In some ways 16 years is a long time, but within history it was such a short time ago. We've veloved, how cool is that?

FAB said...

Should say we've evolved. oops

Dave Hingsburger said...

Susan, just FYI I am also polling staff and members of Vita. Having the picture up on the blog allows me to do this without actually bringing it in. So far the vote is running very much in favour of hanging it .. but I'm just starting with feedback. I hope people keep posting their opinions here as I gather them there.

Colleen said...

Dave - this is a tough one. That word "retarded" has a lot of baggage associated with it. Because of that label, as I am sure we all know, people have been (and still are) tortured, ostrasized, rejected, brutalized, sterilized and killed and then thrown into anonymous graves. I still regularly hear people say it in a derogatory manner when referring to anything slow, silly or foolish or things that just tick them off.

Is avoiding this word political correctness run amok - I honestly don't think so. I think that we would never use the word "nigger" because of the way that word has been used to oppress people. And I think that "retarded" carries an analogous load of oppression.

My vote - Ask the people who have borne the label if they would find your plaque offensive.

A suggestion - since it is obviously a happy memory for you - do you have a photograph or some other memento that you could hang on your wall of fame to represent this one?

Anonymous said...

Anyone that takes the time to look close enough to see the phrasing will see the date and hopfully understand that the intent was well meant.

It shows progression more than anything I think...

In the spirit of asking for feedback we should include all, so definately ask people you know with disabilities. You will get a wise response.

rickismom said...

OK, I'll be the one lone wolf. I personally have NO problem with the word "retardation", as I look at it as a technical term, with out the "baggage". But if even ONE client clams up, is it worth it?
I would suggest that you scan it, and blur out the end of the word (leave the "R"), and hang the corrected pic.

theknapper said...

I vote no.
You talked in an earlier blog re a woman who worked for VITA & was upset by an article that was written many years ago that I think she was asked to photocopy. This feels similar. If it hurts people you serve, it's not ok.

rickismom said...

I just read your blog from a few days back on the weird things people say. I want to add:

1. Often, when I am in a store with Ricki (age 13, has Down s.), she will ask for something, and I refuse (like she needs that ice cream cone like a hole in the head....) So then the clerk pipes up: "Oh, I want to give it to her as a gift...." (What does he think, that I can't afford it?0 So I explain that I don't want her to accept gifts from stangers. For some people I have to really spell it out....
The person that floored me was the lady who said: "Oh, I'm not a stranger....." (?!???!???)

2. Then of course their are the people who used to tell me (when she'd been having a tantrum or the like) "Oh, but shes SO cute!" (Like they look afrais I might just give her away....

3. Another beauty was the doctor who asked why I hadn't done amnio, and he had a child with DS and let him die. (Leads to great confidence in the doc....)

4. Yester day a new mom gushed about her luck in having a child with DS, who has only a good inclination, and not a bad one.
see my blog for the answer.

yanub said...

Dave, I suggest that you re-frame your memento, perhaps with a more current one, in such a way as to indicate progressive change. A well-displayed memento, even one using inappropriate words or images, can be made acceptable if its display makes the historical context and current understanding clear.

Anonymous said...

I dont believe there is anything inherently offensive about "retarded". The term or diagnosis is still used in the medical and legal communities and appears in the DSM-IV (I believe it will also be in the DSM-V slated for release in 2010). The problem is not with the word, the word is an accurate description of a cluster of symptoms. This description is and will continue to be essential in identifying people in need of public funds and other services. The problem is with human-nature and our tendency to shun anyone who is different. I guess it comes down to the concept of "survival of the fittest", the more intelligent, attractive, and stronger individual will theoretically be better equipped to live longer and reproduce. What is the worst insult one could receive? Your ugly? Stupid? Unlikable? I think people take the most pride in intelligence and value it most highly. This is why changing the word to something less 'offensive' will do absolutely nothing to change its meaning. Recently in a memo, the ED of Vita praised staff for their "compassion". I looked it up, compassion is "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering." I am losing my point....I guess my point is that being "disabled" is not something that we strive for, it is not considered success it is considered failure. People (some) have adopted "retarded" into their everyday language because it hurts the most. Please dont get me wrong here, I am a kind, caring and empathetic individual. I too work directly with developmentally-disabled individuals, and every day that I work I count my blessings that I turned out "normal". I cant even fathom the pain of some of the nasty, wicked tricks mother-nature plays on us. But....when I arrive at the group-home every day at least I can do my best to make someone smile and treat them with the same respect and dignity I would like to be treated with if I was in the same shoes. Perhaps we give the issue too much attention, the more we debate "retarded" the more taboo it becomes. Lets call a spade a spade here. I vote you hang it on the wall. Offensive or not, its truth and reality.

Anonymous said...

Boy am I ever glad I authored as 'anonymous' in the last post, I just re-read it and realized it is perhaps a little harsh and may trigger some angry responses.

Shan said...

Yeah, anonymous, it did come off a little chilly at the end there...I personally feel the last three sentences are a bit much.

Dave, I was going to say hang it, but after reading the comments, maybe at home would be better, instead of at work.

I had five posts to read, by the way - things are hectic here.

Shan said...

By the way, I have that spacing problem every time. How I fix it is, I go into the "Edit" window of the Compose box once the post is finished. In "Edit" I can see where blogger has removed paragraph divisions, and add them back in. It has to be in the Edit window though.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Shannon, neice of talent extraordinaire ... thanks for the hint, as you can see, it worked!

wendy said...

Dave-I'm with theknapper here. As soon as I read your question yesterday I thought of the post in which you wrote of the woman at Vita who had taken offence to the article and I wondered how many more of her there are...maybe less articulate or less likely to say that something bothers them especially if it's in the office of someone they like and respect. I'm with Shan...home might be a better place for it.

Maryanne in Pgh said...

This is my first regular blog (Dave, until you I was a blog virgin - and you were so gentle, thanks so much, I'll never forget you). I've lurked since Dave visited Butler Pennsylvania (thanks, HCQU) and now it's time for a post.

Regarding a public display of the award, I see a sort of "decision tree" - here's a stab at it (overly simplistic, I know):
For whose benefit are the award displays?

If the award displays are for your benefit, then ask "do they need to be displayed in a location where others will see them?" If "no", the private office (which other wise readers suggested) may be the place for them. If "yes", proceed to the question below.

If for your clients, does displaying the award serve them or help them in any way? If "no", that's the answer. If "yes", does it help or serve _all_ to display the award? If "yes", that's your answer. If "no", then ask whether it does harm to some clients. If "yes", then ask "is the good provided to some offset by the harm done to others by displaying the award?" If "no", that's your answer. If "yes" - that's your answer.

Ah, if only life's dilemmas could be so simply reduced.

Thanks for posing the question, Dave, and thanks to the posters for the thoughtful comments. I learn something every time I read the blog and its comments.

Gaina said...

Hi Dave, I'm just catching up with your blogs :).

Yes, hang it up! You said it yourself it's of it's time and the intent behind the conference is more important that the words used that may or may not be appropriate in our current society.

Dave Hingsburger said...

So, what did I do with the picture? Well, the vote was definately towards the hang it. Someone suggested placing it so that one can see progress. It is hanging beside a CDSS advert that used something I wrote "Different Genes, Same Value" and it's placed high. I asked someone with a disability and he wanted to 'see it' not 'talk about it' ... so he suggested hanging it up and then let the Vita members decide. And that is what I've done.