Friday, November 16, 2007

At The Conference

Such a contrast.

Sitting in a hotel room watching a report on the plight of people with intellectual disabilities in Serbia - seeing horrific images of adult bodies twisted to fit into cribs they were never lifted out of. Hearing the cries of a people who's entire life is an experience of abuse and abandonment. While outside my room over a hundred people with disabilities were gathering to be part of a conference about rights, about voice and about freedom.

The next morning I led a session for those self advocate and for two hours we worked together, laughed together and learned together. I tried not to let those images get in the way of what I was doing. I tried to focus on the journey here to this place for those who were attending. Most were of the age to know institutionalization, to know being placed apart. Most here could speak to the issues of abuse.

It's natural to want those images to be foreign, away from us, something that others do ... but it's not. Perhaps what was shown was more extreme than what we did ... but I'm reminded of 'Christmas in Purgatory' the stunning photographic essay of institutionalization in the United States - the images weren't far off from what was shown on television.

Yet there are those who want to stem the tide of freedom for those with disabilities, want to reopen the doors of the institution, close the doors of the community. There are two things that must be at the forefront of our minds.

Never forget.

Never again.


Andrea said...

I'm curious to know if the video you saw was from Mental Disabilities Rights International (MDRI), since I know they do a lot of documentation of institutional abuse around the world.

I agree with you that institutions should be banned. But I'm curious what you would say to people who try to argue, "But those abuses were [insert here--in another country; in another era; were in a time when we had different practices or techniques; in a time when _____; other ______]. In other words, to people who are convinced that there is a way to provide a humane institutional experience.

Thanks for sharing this story.

Andrea (Blogging disability, poverty, and human rights in developing countries) (Blogging the ADA Restoration Act and other topics.)

Anonymous said...

Oh my God! I was reading your blog and Ann Curry came on the "Today" show with a special report and film footage of the Serian institution. It's heartbreaking and shocking. I, for one, will never forget! My grandson with special needs is the most precious person in my life including the rest of my grandchildren. There's something about this child that makes my heart sing with joy. I can't imagine how one human being could do what they are doing in Serbia to another human being. There is absolutely no excuse for it. Thanks for reminding us.

theknapper said...

And then there's the wolf in sheep's clothing. In BC there's the "lets close grouphomes & people can live in people's homes" and some people "choose" easy clients & promise them more freedom etc & then the person is living in a basement suite more isolated than before but it "looks good"

Jennifer Justice said...

Hi, I saw the Today show piece as well. I'm traveling to Eastern Europe next week and I'd been wondering about the types of services there. Dateline is doing a feature on the Serbian institutions tonight, and they did interview people from the MDRI this morning.

Belinda said...

Global advocacy is an area our agency is working hard at. This is cut and pasted from our web site, which is
"Our global focus is to improve living conditions, champion for human rights, promote social awareness, provide education and training, and to promote greater opportunities for individuals with disabilities."

We have done work in Russia, as well as many other countries; working with the government and doing radio slots to raise awareness that community living is possible for people with disabilities. There is so much to be grateful for in Canada.

And theknapper's comment resonated with me too. I worry when philosophy is worshiped so much that people stop listening and apply "the answer" in a blanket way. We need a spectrum of supports and services and people should have choices about their support. Listening is the key.

Andrea said...


It sounds like there is a certain degree of overlap between the goals of your web site and my new blog (secular) called We Can Do, which focuses on disability within the field of international development with a focus on poverty, human rights, etc. in developing countries:

Belinda said...

Hi Andrea,
Thanks for making me aware of your blog. I took a look and it is exciting. My husband is deeply involved in doing everything he can to help the First Nations children here in Ontario, many of whom have disabilities and are living in third world conditions within our borders. I wonder if the laptop for every child might work here too.

rickismom said...

Oh, it wasn't that long ago at all! In 19 71 I was a nursing student in Illinois, and as part of the "psychiatric " studies, we visited the state institution for the mentally disabled. It was clean.. people could get up and walk around... but they had NOTHING to do!!! Thank G-d it closed soon after.