Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Failure - A Three Part Sympony

Yesterday was a lovely day. We started the day by going down to Ashbridges Bay so that I could sit in the shade and read and Joe could go for a walk on the boardwalk. We arrived and found a spot that was just off the bike bath and a few feet away from the boardwalk. It was perfect as I had a few of the volleyball courts and the lake beyond that and I was under a lovely shade tree so there was no chance of my bald head getting burned. Joe made sure I was OK and then went off for a long walk along the beach. I pulled my book out of my bag and began to read.

Every now and then I'd stop and look up at the view. There were almost naked young men and women playing volleyball and their joy of being young and in the sun could be felt all the way over where I was. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever that young, ever that carefree, but I know I was - it's just hard to remember that sometimes. But then I'd be called back by the book I'm reading. It's got an intense plot and I'm only a hundred or so pages from ending.

Then I heard five people arrive behind me. I turned to see two staff, they were obviously staff, with three women with intellectual disabilities. These women would have worn the label 'low functioning' or 'profoundly disabled' back in the days when disability was put on a gradient. One staff said to the other, "Where do you want to go?"

Failure Number One: Who cares where she wants to go? It's not her outing! You are both at work and your job is NOT to have a lovely time in a park. That's a side benefit, sure, but it's NOT the job. The job is to ensure that the three women who are with you have a nice time. It's impossible to have a nice time when you are herded along with no choice, without the dignity of even being asked where you want to go. You could tell that these two staff had stopped considering these women as communicators, as people with choices, as people who might just have a frigging preference.

As the two staff were discussing which way to go, one of the three women had noticed the volley ball play, and started, independently, to move in that direction. The staff, still discussing the direction to go, noticed her movement and pulled her back into place.

Failure Number Two: Right there one of the women indicated a preference. Communicated in the best way she knew how about where she wanted to go and what she wanted to see. Instead of noticing an act of communication, the staff - thinking that her behaviour was meaningless - pulled her back into place. Treating her like an errant child not a woman communicating choice. I wonder how many times their voices have been ignored, discounted, silenced.

They settle on a direction and pass by me heading west. I turn to watch them walk and notice that the woman who had indicated that she wanted to head over to the volleyball courts was turned and continued to look at the courts. The sun hit her eye and I saw a glint there. I put my gaze on hers and slid to see what she was staring at. She was looking at a group of young men, maybe in their twenties, playing volleyball. They were all, to a one, wearing orange shorts and nothing else. The sun had burnished their skin, their bodies were fit and strong, they played with the exuberance of young dogs casting themselves in the air.

I looked back at her and saw that she did not break gaze with these young men until she was out of view. Then she turned a trotted along behind the staff.

Failure Number Three: If it were anyone else I would have immediately understood that she was looking at those beautiful bodies. I had thought that she was attracted to the motion, to the games, to all the activity. What was I, nuts? I know better than to diminish someone's sexuality because of their disability, don't I? Of course she'd be attracted to sun and skin and sexuality. While I castigate those staff from not noticing her clear communication, I castigate myself for noticing her disability first, her humanity second.

Seconds later Joe came back and we headed off to find a place to sit together. "Tell me that you had a nice time and that something bloggish didn't happen," he said. I smiled without speaking, "OK, well leave it till tomorrow, this is a holiday."

And that's what I did.


Anonymous said...

And yet.

What if all staff completely disappeared, and people with disabilities were really, truly independent? Would the results be so awful? People might say, "Well, they might get hurt" or "Well, all of their needs might not be met." Who cares? I'm not considered disabled, and I could get hurt. Sometimes my needs aren't met. That's life. In fact, there have been times when I have been hurt. And thank God I had that opportunity. Failure number one might have been that the staff was there at all. The danger of living an unfree life is far greater than the dangers I mentioned above.

Have you ever read "Brave New World"? In it, a character named the Savage doesn't fit in with the sick distopia that has developed, in which everyone want to be comfortable at all times. He has a conversation with another character named Mustapha Mond:

"In fact', said Mustapha Mond, 'you're claiming the right to be unhappy.'
'All right then,' said the Savage defiantly, 'I'm claiming the right to be unhappy.'

'Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.' There was a long silence.
'I claim them all,' said the Savage at last.

Belinda said...

"Something bloggish?" I love it!... "Something bloggish this way comes."

Reading Anonymous's comment, I have to agree with an element there. I think we would do well to focus more on being unnecessary and also on being as invisible as possible. We might never succeed in either goal (or perhaps we might), but the effort would produce good results and a healthier mindset.

Belinda said...

Rather than "being unnecessary," I should have said, "working ourselves out of a job." That was what I meant.

lina said...

Firstly, I'm surprised Joe would even ask that question yet - surely he was joking!
But here's my secondly, ok anonymous and Belinda - I hear what you are saying - but rather than concerning ourselves with 'working ourselves out of a job', how about coming to that place where if you are working for 'someone', any someone, you do just that. If I hired someone to work for me, they would do as I want - or the job they were paid to do - for me. And, I may need to do that someday. Why not consider that person with the disabilty as my boss. If that person is satisfied - then I keep my job, and if not, then I don't.
Not my client, not my....place what ever other word you would like here, but my boss - they are in charge - and that person determines how my job is done.
Does that make sense? And so, wandering, and risk and fun without any other purpose - would be allowed if that's what my boss has intended for the day. Talk about a Brave New World - (and thanks for reminding me about that book - a great read from the past!)

Julie said...

Woe the staff when we arrived at home if I were the woman who was denied her bit of eye-candy! There is no greater joy than watching nearly nude men, in all their suntanned glory, in the midst of testosterone driven competition! As someone who does work FOR people with disabilities, I'm always trying to find fun and free things to do. Some of the young women I hang out with are very much into "scoping" - they don't really talk, and aren't that interested in developing relationships with the guys they work and live with. But...take them on campus (we live in a large university town)at the beginning of the fall semster, and you can practically hear their hearts beat faster and their juices flow as they get their fill of "babes", as one gal says. If I ever cut their time short, there would be hell to pay.

Have you ever had to communicate rationally with a woman (with or without any disabilities) who is really pissed off and whose hormones are raging? Not a pretty picture!

Gaina said...

Oh dear, doesn't Joe know by now that something 'bloggish' happens every day? I don't know about you but I live with my eyes and ears open, looking for something colourful to write about every day.

Something about this blog reminded me of the movie 'Tim' (in my humble opinion Mel Gibson's finest moment). And you're absolutely right, who the HELL are the 'experts' to tell people they have no right to love and explore their sexuality because they have a handicap, intellectual or physical?

This is what gets me about humans, they can't can't just operate as souls attracted to one another, and let themselves be moved by nature and instinct - everything has to be intellectualised and appropriate social rules set down for it to be considered 'valid' or 'proper'.

I would applaud you but then I'd buckle and the knees and spend the next hour getting back in my chair :P

Anonymous said...

That's a good point, lina. Thanks for pointing that out, since I didn't think of it (I'm the same anonymous as the Brave New World anonymous). Still, it would be interesting to compare staff employment as it stands to what it would be if disabled people actually got to choose whether or not they had staff, who they might hire, or what the staff might do.