Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Poverty And The Perfect People

Image description: A poster with the words: IF I CAN'T DANCE IS IT STILL MY REVOLUTION? and a graphic of the wheelchair symbol holding up a middle finger
Sometimes you just fall into the wrong conversation, don't you. Joe and I were having a cuppa tea at our local spot and I was telling him about the fact that I'm writing a short summation about poverty and disability with particular emphasis on intellectual disability. We were a few moments into the conversation when a woman, sitting at the next table, asked if I had said that I was writing something about poverty. I said that I was. She introduced herself as a poverty advocate. (I didn't say that I would think that people would advocate against poverty - I've never understood putting those two words together.)

The conversation was interesting for a short while and then it became really strange. As she came to realize that my emphasis was on people with intellectual disabilities, and as she came to understand what that term meant, her interest began to immediately wane. She actually said that at least poverty didn't effect 'those people' in the same way as 'regular people' because they are happy just with the simple things. They don't realize their poverty in the same way. I don't like any conversation that involves the terms 'those people' and 'regular people' so it was hard to keep my calm. I asked her if she was suggesting that God made a people perfectly adapted to a life of poverty? She said, "No, but I always think of them smiling and happy, never as poor and wretched." I had to end the conversation. She didn't understand why, I was too angry to explain. I am not always perfectly suited to teach.

It strikes me though how easily people with intellectual disabilities are exempted from the discussion. The belief that they, as a people do not experience issues regarding:


They are just happy to live life.


They don't understand, poor dears.


They don't feel pain the way we do.


They cope so well with rape and battery don't they?

The exclusion of people with disabilities from discussions regarding any of these issues is done, in the minds of others, for their own good. They don't need to be at the table - it would just upset them. While all re research suggests that people with intellectual disabilities have a peculiar claim on all these issues, they are virtually ignored when discussing them and, as a result, are often at the bottom of the priority list for responding. What's the peculiar claim? They experience all of these things at a higher rate than any other group.

But why would we talk about that?

Isn't it better to just post a picture of someone with Down Syndrome on Facebook and have people write AMEN if they just love the smiling face in the picture?

Action that is inaction and action that perpetuates inaction shouldn't be tolerated. The issues that people with intellectual disabilities face, the very real social issues, need to be discussed. Because those 'AMEN faces' are going to face violence and discrimination and poverty, and they are going to do it in a cocoon of silence because apparently God made a people perfectly suited to a disrespected life.


Frank_V said...

There so many issues brought up by this conversation, so, I'll just tackle that lady's "Poor and wretched" comment: Wow, how biased is that? Why is it automatically assumed the poor live wretched lives? I've known plenty of rich and wretched people, but no one ever talks about them!

Also, my mother's family of 13 siblings, living on a farm, one toilet (no bath), were certainly considered "poor and wretched" by high society. But when the great depression struck back in the 1930's, and city folk were lining up in the food lines, my mother's family were very well taken care of. They never lacked for any sort of food, and from the pictures, lived pretty happy lives.

City folk live in an artificial construct that completely collapses when money is removed from the equation, THAT'S the wretched part.

Colleen said...

Wow! Dave. The prejudice runs deep. Unfreakingbelievable!!!

Jenni said...

I was told by one of my paid carers that 'some people (meaning people like me) are more able to deal with difficulties than others, so that's why they get more burdens in life than others'.

Good job I have ME (SEID) - it meant I didn't have the energy to punch her (joking... mostly).

clairesmum said...

Anytime we use language to make an individual or a group into an 'other' we begin to place relative values, and 'me/mine/us/like me' is always valued over 'he/she/they/them'.
while i think this pattern recognition is neurologically based and was originally a survival mechanism, as human adults we have the skills to respond with intention, not just with reflexive thoughts and selfish actions.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you for this powerful post.

theknapper said...

omg....thank you for your response One hopes that you shook up her beliefs a little bit...

Anonymous said...

It's "advocates" like this who make it seem okay to the BC Govt. to give people with disabilities a tiny $ increase and then take most of it away by taking away their bus passes. Wish that lady had to experience the feelings that come with people not even thinking we are human enough to wish we weren't poor. Sucks to be HER!

Leah said...

Hi - thanks for another excellent post! Not all (anti)poverty activists are that exclusive, narrow minded and patronizing of course - and disabled activists have been working for ages to address the often deep disablism that exists in so many social justice organizations. One of them is the artist of the image for this post - AJ Withers, their website is http://stillmyrevolution.org/disability-politics/ where they talk about a lot of these issues as well.

nylgnik said...

Dave- I was struck by your comment "I am not always perfectly suited to teach". Every day you open up yourself to engage all manner of people with your consistent message, teaching with every ounce of your being and often seem to be greeted by such abominable ignorance. Thank you for this - I just wish that you didn't have to ...

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Disabilities multiply their effects - or raise them to a power. It's hard enough to deal with being X, but if you also have Y to deal with, the result is that you have to deal with X TIMES Y. Or X to the Y power. (Where, for all the mathematicians here, X and Y are all greater than one.)

You should have simply asked her which she would rather be. Some people don't get it until it's personal.

Once she understood one thing, you should start piling on MORE. Because once you have one thing, you are MORE likely to get additional 'gifts.'

I could manage the CFS brain fog, exhaustion, and pain easier when I could walk. Now that I can't walk very far, even with a walker, so many things are simply NOT worth it.

You know what it's like, and how easily it can escalate because we are not immune from catching the flu, for example - which is much harder to deal with if you have nowhere to live, or no access to meds and comfort measures, or have to wait until someone deigns to take care of you.

That woman was looking for validation that the little tiny piece of the world's problems that she had decided to do a bit about was therefore good and important and sufficient. You poked a hole in her balloon. Good for you.

Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone said...

I am so deeply appalled. Anyone who doesn't include PwD and especially those with ID/D in their anti-poverty work doesn't know too much about the roots of poverty. -.-

Kimberly Rosa said...

When I was first labeled as disabled it was years before the wreck I was in. I have AD/HD. When my mother would tell people this to explain why I could not have candy, they would pat her hand with pity and say things like "Well maybe she will marry well to someone who will take care of her.When I got older, people were surprised that I could do things like write or read for long periods of time. I even went on to win third place in a writing contest (1st and 2nd were college students.Not to bad for a 7th grader). People were so surprised that they actually wrote an article about me for the local newspaper. At one point I was asked how I was able to write and I told them by putting pencil to paper. I mean what was I suppose to say?

The point is that in spite being "slow" due to my disability I understood we were seen as poverty level. Yes I smiled all the time but I felt the effects of it. For me, I made a choice I could dwell on it and become bitter or I could learn from it and try to help others whenever I could so they would never have to feel the way I use to.

Now that I am physically disabled as well I do have people who talk to my finance as if I am not even in the room and some of his friends (who are also physically disabled but see me as slow witted as they say even in front of me) they try to say that I don't notice we are below being poor because I always smile.

This lady you are talking about seems like she would fit in same group. It does not matter in my book if you are physically or mentally disabled,if you need help I think you should be able to get it and then when you are in a better place should pay it forward. Does that make sense?

Dave Hingsburger said...

To the person who made the Anonymous comment that you suspected I would 'knock back' ... well you are right I did. The comment policy clearly states I don't publish personal attacks and as you named an actual person and service in Liverpool, I chose not to publish the comment. I think you have a point to make, and I think taking a shot at how organizations choose to spend their money, on things like training - including myself versus directly on the people they serve, is fair. But if you could do it in a way that doesn't single out a specific person or organization ... go ahead. But I'm not publishing personal attacks against any individual or organization by an anonymous source. Disagree if you like, but, my blog, my rules.