So often when travelling to lecture I get into heated debates and discussions about the issue of community. I see the community differently than many others in 'the movement' .. but aside from that ... the issue is the question as to the existence of the disability community or the appropriateness of even the concept of a community comprised of those with disabilities. Now, it's important to remember it's almost invariably non-disabled people explaining to me, a disabled person, how 'community' means everything but associations with others of 'like kind.'
Now I get the concepts of forced segregation and forced congregation. I do. It was wrong. They seem to not be able to understand the concepts of forced integration and forced inclusion. To me, the argument should never involve even the mention of 'segregation' or 'integration' it should always and only be about 'force'. Telling a person with a disability that hanging around with others with disabilities is wrong and that the person should aspire to typical relationships is, to me, tantamount to psychological abuse. It's teaching that 'the norm' trumps 'the different' and that someone gets value from the gang with which they hang, rather than from membership in the human community. It even suggests, slightly, that some people are just more 'human' than others. Yikes.
Me? I value the disability community in the same way as I value the gay community in the same way I value the community of faith. They are all communities to which I have entry. I do not wish to confine myself to one large, huge community. In fact, the concept of community as spoken about in the community living movement terrifies me. I think it was conceived and the lionized by middle class white thin privileged people. That community, I flee from. I see it as violent toward, as biased against, as bigoted of, and as greeting difference with intolerance. Yep, you may want to go to those parties. I don't. I'll stick to my little communities. The ones to which I belong and where welcome greets me at the door.
A few days ago I was rolling into a store and a woman in a power wheelchair stopped at the sight of me. She said to her friend, excitedly, 'Look, another one.' She came on over and we chatted. She was a bright, funny, elderly woman who said that she was always the only wheelchair user in the store. My appearance was almost magical to her. She said that sometimes she just craves the sight of others with disabilities, to remember that she's not alone in a world of others. The fellow with her obviously disapproved of her comments, non-disabled people sometimes don't get that sometimes they just aren't enough.
Later that same day I was rolling back to the hotel and a young and pretty woman was wheeling towards me. The sidewalk was narrow and the drop off steep. I smiled and called out, 'Wanna play chicken?' She smiled back and answered, 'I'd have the softer landing!' We howled. We stopped and talked ... about gloves. She uses a different style than I do and we talked about them. We laughed about how we get asked all the times why we wear gloves. She said, 'I used to say, 'Well you wear shoes don't you?'' But she stopped that because the confusion often caused minds to misfire dangerously. So a few more comments about us-world as compared to them-world and we were off.
Community. I love the disabled community. I love those who have 'come out' as disabled, identify with a disability world view, and who see allies where others see difference. I love those accidental meetings. Meetings that reassure me that because my experiences are not unique, I am not alone.
That's what community is for.
Perhaps the strong drive to forbid people with intellectual disabilities the right to respectfully choose to hang with each other is our way of keeping them alone. Keeping them from talking. Because maybe we fear if they did, they'd discover something. Community. And the power that comes from common goals. Perhaps what we are really afraid of is, revolution.