Monday, March 29, 2010

Change Begins: You Tube 4

(if you cannot play here, search Hingsburger on YouTube and then select the video titled Change Begins)

(Transcription by Tessa.)

Note: If you've been watching all the videos you will note that I'm telling stories in chronological order starting at my first job, this story is the second told from my second job, next story will be from my third job. It's kind of a way of making sense of my career, and my growth, to me - and hopefully it will mean something to you along the way.

Change Begins

I was soon to leave the institution. I had received a job offer in the community and was about to move to community services where I would spend the rest of my career. And as I was driving to work this particular evening, it was to be an evening that would have profound effect on my career, and certainly on the latter portion of my career. It was a very dark night, and it was very cold. I had moved to Ontario from British Columbia where winter was wet, and here winter was white and it was very white and very very cold.

As I pulled into the institution, I looked at it for the first time with different kind of eyes because it was a dark night and it was, it was warm lights that come out through the wards and I saw people moving behind, and it did seem an odd kind of ‘home’, but I was wrong, and I was proved forever wrong that evening. Because I walked onto the ward, and it was shift change and there were all sorts of things happening and people were communicating what was happening during the day and what was expected to happen during the evening. It was least favourite of the shift rotations because there was a staff there who frightened me.

She was a big, brassy, bully of a woman and she ruled the ward with fear. She was not in management and I doubt would ever be, but nonetheless, she had managed that ward. And working with her was very very difficult because one tip-toed around her mood and one did everything one could just to make sure that she was happy because if she was happy, then we were happy. And if we were frightened of her, one can only imagine how the people with disabilities on the ward truly felt about her because I think in many ways, she just hated them.

Well, it had gone actually, fairly quietly that whole shift and people were in bed as they should be. And the way the ward was constructed, cause it was a co-ed ward, there was two big bedrooms at the back of the ward, the males on one side, females on the other.

I was in the office doing a little bit of paper work when I heard this incredible scream, so I came out of the office and I came around to see what had happened. And I noticed a woman whose name was Debbie and she was being pulled along by her hair by her hair by this staff who was furious, and there was fury written all over her face and all over her body.

And this was Debbie! And Debbie was a woman with a disability that I truly liked. I like her because she... she had this incredible back bone. She hadn’t been bowed by institutionalization. She hadn’t let the captivity of body take over her mind in any way. She stood toe to toe with us as staff, and she refused to see us as her superiors – she saw us as her equals. And she wasn’t a behavior problem I any way. I mean, she didn’t throw tantrums or break things or cause all sorts of problem, she was just resolutely our equals. She was just an astonishing person and needless to say, the staff hated her, or this particular staff hated her.

I didn’t know they, where they were going because the time out room was in the other direction. They were headed over towards the door, and the door was on the side of the word and it was locked and it was almost always locked. And the door lead out only into this little play ground and it was a playground that was fenced off and if you went out there you couldn’t leave the area, because the fence was tall and it was locked.

And the door itself was locked and when they got to the door, the staff unlocked the door and just, just threw Debbie out And it was cold, it was really really cold out there. And I saw the staff pull the door back and lock the door, and Debbie was on the other side and it was cold. It was really really cold and all she was wearing was this, this nightdress and she had bare feet. I approached the staff and I said, “You can’t do this. I mean, it’s cold outside. You have to let her back in!”

I was told very quickly and very firmly that I needed to just back off. Because this was none of my business, and this woman Debbie – she was, she was going to learn her place. And what, what lesson do you learn, just standing outside in the cold. I mean what lesson do you learn about yourself? You might learn lessons about the world, and you might learn lessons about the staff but you certainly learn nothing about yourself when you are standing in the cold and you are freezing and the door is locked and there is an angry woman on the other side refusing to let you in.

And I begged her, I begged her to let her in and she was just furious now with me for questioning her. I didn’t know what had happened and I didn’t know why Debbie deserved this. Well, may not, but I didn’t think that anything deserved being locked out in the cold when you only had a nightgown, and you only had bare feet. Eventually the door was unlocked, and I tell myself and it’s probably not true, that maybe my protest made that a little less long than it would have been if I hadn’t been there.

You should have seen Debbie cause she walked by me, and her back – it was just rod straight. I was cheering inside because she walked with such incredible dignity that she showed up this fury and this bully of a woman.

I couldn’t understand why everybody acted like nothing was happening, like the other staff, they didn’t do anything. These were good people! These were good people but I could see when I looked at these good people – they were afraid. They were afraid of the staff, they were afraid of her violence, and they were afraid of protest and losing their jobs or whatever might happen if one did something, and stood up. It was horrible. And I went home that evening and I found it very difficult sleeping because I had to sort of face that this was my profession and this was what I had chosen to do and this is what happens in places like this.

I went to work the next day and I had made the decision that I was going to report this. So I did. I chose one of the supervisors who I truly trusted, and I think that is what made this so difficult. We sat down together in a private room and I described to her what had happened the evening before, and I was clearly very upset.

She was understanding at first and she told me that these things happen in places like this and that I needed to have a thicker skin if I was going to survive in human service. And then... her voice went cold…as cold as it had been the evening before. And she told me that I was never to make this kind of report again and that I was never, ever, EVER to bring this to her attention again or I would be in significant trouble.

Well thank heavens I was going to be leaving that job, and when I left the institution, I left very very troubled. And over the next many years in Human Services, I have to say that is not the only act of violence that I witnessed, against people with disabilities. And in the first instance, in the institution, I spoke up but in many instances, I did not. I was part of the silent group that saw what happened and did little about it.

Then years later, decades later, I was in a hospital and I was facing a catastrophic illness and I was in the recovery part, and I knew I was going to be ok and I was thinking about my career and what I had yet to do, and I remembered Debbie. And I remembered the debt that I owed to her for not somehow, somehow making that whole thing better, and being more firmly on her side. And all of the other people with disabilities that I had let down over the course of the years that I had let down because of silence, or inaction or simply turning away. And I just didn’t want to do that anymore and I decided that what I wanted to do was really look at the issues that really made people with disabilities vulnerable in Human Services. The fact that staff have absolutely almost unchecked power in their relationship to people with disabilities and that good staff, good staff feel disempowered and feel somehow that their voices are going to lead to them being in trouble, that THEY will be abused by the system if they raise the issue of abuse TO the system.

And then the fact that the system itself is loath to change, that the system itself would rather have abuse occur within it, than to deal publically with the issue of abuse. So for this to happen to people who are in care is a tragedy, but for change not to happen is a willful decision. So I decided that what I wanted to do was spend the rest of my career dealing with abuse as an issue. That is what I have been dealing with for the last three years.

It was just today that I sat down to write the opening of a book that will document a three-years journey here at Vita Community Services regarding what we have done to confront the issue of abuse within the organization and to radically alter the organization to make it a safe haven for people with disabilities to live in. And I am proud of that work, and I am proud of what I am about to document, and I am proud of the fact that there were people who were willing to take a chance to make these changes.

So thus began the writing today.


Kate said...

You changed the format again....I have to say.... just as I get used to a new blog look you change it again. I wonder if you could make the font a little smaller? It is hard to read so much text in such a big font if you have to constantly scrolling down. I enjoy your blog very much but I just wish it would stay in one place ie style lol. Thanks. Kate

Kate said...

On second thought the font is probably okay but it will take some getting used to for me.

Brenda said...

My word, you are a brave man. To speak with such passion about a horrible situation, and then to confess that you did not handle it in the way you would have liked, took much courage, I'm sure. But then to determine to begin to be a part of the much needed changes, years later, takes more courage still. Just one of the many reasons I keep coming back to your blog, day after day. You show us who you are, and who you are is honest, human, charming, and wonderful. I'm so glad that you continue to share the way you do. (Just one little technical observation: is there any way your videos could have a louder volume? I turn my speakers up full, and still have to strain to hear you. The transcript helps (and it's awesome!), but I'd love to be able to just sit back and enjoy your voice. There's so much more passion in the spoken word than in the written text.)

OhWheely . . said...

Ditto Dave.

Had to read the transcript today as volume is so low.

Shame is a powerful motivator indeed.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Readers and Listeners: I'm not sure how to fix the volume problem. On my computer here at home I can hear the YouTube videos with no problem at all. I am only recording these on my home computer, not in a studio, these are not professionally done. I guess my choice, given I only have the equipment and skill set I have, is to simply stop making the videos. However, this video is so important to me that I don't want this discussion to turn into a 'vote' rather than commentary on the content of the video. I'll put up a 'vote' meter later on in this week and I'll let you all decide if this is the last of the planned videos.

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -
Thank you for your conscience and your courage, Dave. And please, please write that book. Please write every word that you can to bring this sort of situation to an end. Abuse of people who are in a vulnerable position, whatever their vulnerability may be - abuse is wrong. Abuse destroys the body and the spirit. Abuse must stop.

Marilyn Yocum said...

Came here after reading your words about the bus ride to work over at Belinda's blog. Loved this video! Well, hated what you experienced, but loved how you found your voice and the new direction in which you are using it, Dave.

May you have the time and space to write and what you need each day to put the needed words on the page!

Brenda said...

No, no, no! PLEASE don't stop the videos! They are totally worth straining to hear. Perhaps one of your readers/listeners can offer some technical expertise? The videos are important and enjoyable, and I'd hate to see them stopped due to a small technical difficulty. I tried to watch the YouTube version, rather than the imbedded one, but alas there was no difference for me. Hmmm...anyone else have a suggestion? And in case I forgot to mention it, please don't stop the videos!

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

What a powerful story! I am in awe of your transparency. Through stories like this people can learn. The truth is that anyone who has been working in human services for any length of time can think of instances when they failed to protect someone or even inflicted harm on someone they supported - not because they are bad people but because the system within which we work is so horribly flawed, the culture within which it is embedded so horribly prejudiced.

Thank you Dave for opening the dialogue years ago now, for your ongoing committment to change. It really does make a difference. I know your work makes a difference because I see it.

And please don't stop the videos!

Laurel said...

Hi Dave,

I love the videos, and I wanted to let you know that. I don't have any involvement in the field of disability nor am I disabled myself. Your thoughts were already opening up a new window for me--bringing light to an area that I didn't know much about--but the videos are really something special. I can see why you're in demand as a speaker. You have a real gift for humble yet compelling storytelling.

I too have volume issues, but I certainly don't want you to stop doing the videos! I wonder if it might help to just sit a little closer to the mike. Or, if you're just using the computer mike, you might be able to get an inexpensive one that plugs into the computer and that offers a little better range of flexibility and quality. Something like one of the better-rated ones here? (

But if it's quiet video or no video, I'll definitely take quiet! Thank you for doing these.

Laurel said...

Hmm, blogger ate part of my link, there was a .htm (dot htm, in case it gets taken out again) on the end of that.

Kristin said...

Dave, your stories never fail to move me, to touch my soul, and to remind me how important it is to speak up.

Please keep making the videos.

Shan said...

Good videos - in fact I think it's a marvellous addition to your blog.

I love the new template.

Seconding the idea of investing in a plug-in microphone.

I'll knit you a pop screen if you need one.

Baba Yaga said...

Thank you. Which is inadequate.

It's not only staff who carry the guilt of having failed to - try, if not actually affect things. The strange power of the system to pervert everyone in it is something which, once experienced, one would *hope no-one ever forgot. You're one of very few to talk about it, concretely; and too often the best leave, and the worst stay.

Bathetically; I find the black on white almost unreadable. In general, but for some reason more than usually so in this new format. Had to highlight the text paragraph by paragraph to read it, and even then it was difficult.

Kate's comment caused me to try Ctrl - (Kate: that works to reduce font size in most browsers, afaik; Command - on the Mac), and yes, it's font size which causes the extra difficulty.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I made the font size smaller, does that help?

Myrrien said...

I hope that every one who works in the "care" sector gets a chance to read that book Dave, I found your story moving and all to familiar although thankfully I have never had the same type of experience but abuse takes many forms and we need to remember that we are there to serve.

May the world remember the Debbies for the amazing people they are.

Andrea S. said...

The woman left out in the cold ... is she the same woman you also describe in your article, "Mourning is Breaking"? I found that one of the most powerful things you've written that I've had the opportunity to read (not yet having read any of your books). But this video, at least from what I can tell via the transcript, is also enormously powerful.

Baba Yaga said...

Smaller font size does help. Thank you.

MC Mobility said...

Beautiful and heart wrenching story. I think it goes back to what you were saying in one of your previous blogs, about how some tend to view disability as synonymous with tragedy. Unfortunately, for many people, the way to cope with tragedy is to dehumanize those involved. And, to dehumanize an entire group of people, in order to deal with what one perceives as a tragic situation is very dangerous indeed. It can then justify any treatment of that group and has produced some pretty catastrophic horrors throughout our history. Love reading your blog. Thank you for your courage in writing it.

Cyndi in BC said...

Just found your blog through twitter. awesome! For people wanting to adjust the font up or down just use Ctrl + or Ctrl - to get the size you want. Personally, I used Ctrl ++++ so I could read it. :)

I like the videos though cause then I don't have to worry about whether I can see it or not. The sound on your videos came through just fine for me.

Vikki said...

Came across this via one of Glenda Watson Hyatt's post, and I'm so glad I did.

Dave, please never stop being a voice for those who are voiceless, or who have had their voices silenced. We need more, many more people like you in this world.

And for heavens sake, please don't let equipment or ability determine whether or not you continue to post videos. Your opinion is more valuable than you know, and if people want to hear it then font size and video quality is totally insignificant. You have a story that needs to be shared, and it's the STORY that needs to be shared, totally disregarding the format.

Thank you for doing what you do. So many would just stand aside, or turn a blind eye. YOU made a difference by having the courage to speak out. Never stop, Dave. Those without a voice - or without a voice that is allowed to be heard - need you.