Thursday, March 06, 2008


Yesterday as I was wheeling myself around Sobey's, our local grocery store, I felt wonderful. I hadn't been out anywhere where I could really move for several days. I saw a long aisle with no one in it and I 'ran' down it - pushing the chair as hard and fast as I could. I swear I could feel the wind in what's left of my hair. It was, wonderful. I slowed myself and rounded the corner. Forgetting, momentarily, what I was (who I am seldom matters) and found myself being stared at by a mother and child. Mother pulls child into her and away from me, like I had some disease that her innocent child could contract.

Every disabled person understands that there is a deep and abiding social prejudice against disability.

I was 'on line' chatting with a new friend of mine, also with a disability, who was telling me about having recently been told that her disability arose from a sinful state. That she represented, bodily, the ugliness of the human soul. That she needed to 'wash in the blood of Jesus' and receive healing in her heart - the healing in her body would follow.

Every disabled person understands that there is a deep and abiding social prejudice against disability.

A few days ago, in the course of a consultation, I spoke with a mother of a little boy with Down Syndrome. She was telling me that at her local day care - parents have petitioned to have her son removed from the day care. They don't want their children being around 'one of those kind of children' and they want their child to be raised in a 'healthy atmosphere'.

Every one who loves a disabled person understands that there is a deep and abiding social prejudice against disability.

A few months ago my boss at Vita had to go to a community meeting to settle down neighbours upset at having a group home with disabled people on their street, in their world. She told me the story with a tired voice, like she's fought this battle for far too often for far too long.

Everyone who works with disabled people understands that there is a deep and abiding social prejudice against disability.

So why don't other people get it?

I've recieved several emails from people about the judgement in the case of Brent Martin. The boys who brutally beat him to death all received life sentences. Fine. Good, even. Some kind of justice. But at the same time, no justice. The judge did not in any way relate the crime to Brent's disability. This will not go down in the books as a disability hate crime which it so clearly was. Brent will die simply a victim of drunken youths. His death, ultimately, may not matter. His martyrdom will be taken from him, from us. From we who need his death to matter.


I recieved a snarky email from a Latimer Lover who tells me that the court stated that Tracy's disability had nothing to do with her murder. That I misunderstood Latimer and his motivations and since the court said disability was irrelevant then disability was irrelevant. Yeah, right. If Tracy had been a bright child, a talkative A student, who suffered from pain - her murder at the hands of her father would have been seen in the same light. Please. But the court refuses to 'see' her disability. To acknowledge that there is a social prejudice.


It has only been recently that the words 'disability' and 'community' have been used together. Only recently that we have been acknowleging in language that there is a collective sensibility of those of us in chairs on canes, crutches and walkers. That those who learn differently, walk differently, talk differently - may be united by difference. It is our community, the community of those with disabilities, those that love those with disabilities, those that support those with disabilities - that must become forthright in talking about prejudice when it occurs. Confronting disphobia when it happens. Using the word 'bigot' to describe those whose prejudice guides their actions.

It's up to us.

Because we are failed by others.


Sharon McDaid said...


I am disgusted at those stories. Why would a mum act like that around you? Why would parents want to model such appalling prejudice and hate to their children at that daycare centre?

Yes, sadly I know you have given the answer.

I was upset that the issue of disability hate crime wasn't mentioned at the sentencing of Brent Martin's killers. There's a lot of work to be done.

Anonymous said...

I was watching an American talk show yesterday that was discussing hate crimes. There was a lawyer on there that specialized in dealing with hate crimes.
She listed different types of hate crimes, race, sexuality, disability, religion.....
I was glad that not only did she list disbility but that she didn't add it last as an afterthought.


moplans said...

You are absolutely right Dave that all bigotry is the same. I am very frightened at this world I have brought my daughter into. While I so often am sheltered from these experiences by my whiteness and socioeconomic status I am horrified that the daycare could be my daycare, that my neighbours could be that ignorant.

I am just cold at the notion that the court said Tracy's disability was not a factor.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe someone would tell another person they have their disability from sin. Even if it were possible ( which it is not! God loves us and its our bodies that are weak not our spirit anyway!) how do THEY know? Do they have a direct line with God or what? PPPPSSSH! Silly people!

Anonymous said...

*sigh* I completely get it, since I have a disability myself. I also don't get it, because even though I do have a disability, I haven't faced prejudice as bad as this.

There is a "disability hierarchy", according to Kathie Snow at,
where certain people with disabilities are viewed as "better off" or "worse off" than others. I've typically been viewed as "better off" (though not as "better off" as "normal people", and it makes me sick to think that others with disabilities are treated like criminals or "Typhoid Mary".

Shame on that mother for pulling her child away from you instead of saying "hello" to you like a true and civilized human being.

Shame on those daycare parents who think that isolating/"protecting" their children from their comrades with disabilities is raising them in a "healthy" atmosphere.

Shame on the judge who oh-so-conventiently failed to mention that the murder of Brent Martin was a disability-related hate crime.

I am one of thousands, hence my name ("Tysyacha" is Russian for "thousand", and we thousands with disabilities cry out for justice.

Oh--and if I have a disability because I am sinful and a sinner, didn't Jesus have mercy on sinners and call them His friends?

Ettina said...

Why do you assume Brent Martin's disability was relevant? I think it had much more to do with whatever was wrong with those guys, Brent Martin was just available.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ettina,
Yes, the guys who killed Brent Martin were seriously disturbed. They were disturbed because they thought it okay to victimize someone whom they perceived as weaker. Indeed, it was Brent's "disability" that made him seem vulnerable and an "easy target" for these kids to attack in the first place. Brent's disability also prevented him from fighting back and defending himself, instead he apologized to his attackers and offered to buy them cigs and alcohol...

Anonymous said...

Mamie: I agree with the first part of your comment (where his disability made him appear more "vulnerable" to his attackers, and also made him appear to be a more "acceptable" target for them). But, was it Brent's disability that led directly to his inability to defend himself? Or might part of the problem have been that he was not adequately taught self defense skills beyond smiling and being friendly? Some disabled people, but especially some people with intellectual disabilities, are in fact taught that it's not okay to show their negative feelings, they have to stay positive and act nice all the time even when they don't like what they're being told or what's being done to them. I don't know enough about Brent's situation to judge, but I've learned enough from reading Dave's blog over the past year to be careful about assuming when a person's behavior is necessarily attrituable to the disability itself and when it might actually be due to the environment they've been raised in.

--A Regular Reader

Anonymous said...

Thank you anonymous, I will definitly be more careful in making assumptions.
One can still make the argument though that if people with disabilities are "taught" not to show negative feelings and to just be positive all the time, that this environmental "programming" is done because of the presense of the disability and thus, the disability is still to blame- although the nature of the disability is not to blame.
(pls note, I do not agree with deprogramming anyone's feelings, i am just playing devil's advocate)

FridaWrites said...

You know, if I were running a daycare center, I'd dismiss the families that complained about having someone disabled there. When someone complained about wanting a healthy atmosphere, I'd say, "You're right. Prejudice isn't healthy."

rickismom said...

Well, it can go the other way too. Several years ago, a friend of mine asked for her daughter with DS to be included in a local day school. She was one of the first in our city to be "included". My friend asked the play school teacher what she would do if other parents protested. The teacher said, "Don't worry, that's my job."
At the end of the year, my friend asked "By the way, did anyone protest?" The teacher smiled. "One day a father came to our school to pick up his daughter. He noticed 'Leah'and asked
-Isn't this child from the (special ed) class next door?'
-No, I replied, she is from our class.
He went home, and related this to his wife. She called up immediately and apologized, saying that of course they had nothing against 'Leah', and he hadn't meant to imply... "

Anonymous said...

Thank you ... in the same friendly spirit of devil's advocate: if a person with disability is targeted for "programming" (to behave in certain socially acceptable ways even when it might be harmful to behave in those ways), is it the disability at fault per se, or is it actually other people's assumptions and attitudes about how a disabled person "should" behave that are to blame?

Or perhaps it is partly rooted in assumptions about what a disability means (in particular, some people have a tendency to assume that disability, but especially intellectualy disability = "childlike" which case their treatment of the disabled person may be partly rooted in their assumptions about appropriate relations between adults and children, including the assumption that the adult is automatically in charge and it is the child's job to be pleasant and obedient.)

Anonymous said...

Don't forget . . .

Anyone who has been offered an abortion numerous times when pregnant with a child with a disability knows there is a deep and abiding social prejudice against disability.

(but I said no)

Heike Fabig said...

Yes, yes, yes, Dave, as always, you're spot on.
An dby the way, thanks for the picture - nice to put a face to those poignant words...

Anonymous said...

I'm with Fridawrites.So this still happens does it? This petition-writing nastiness? Well go for it, you signees, show your true colours, under the guise of wanting whats best for your child.It's certainly the age of "me and mine" .As a teacher of thirty years standing, I know some special needs transitions are a piece of cake with warm fuzzies all-round, and some are the hardest of hard work,excrutiatingly hard, but the nucleus of it all, is a willing team, a supportive community,and the all important "let's give this a go". Many things are a gift in life Dave, and you'd agree a closed mind is not one of them.Good god, day-care and schooling at all levels means we teachers are constantly undoing the reinforcements of particular arm-tugging parents,and just don't start me on this, because teaching in a small country town in Australia twenty years ago,apart from school, my views were in the minority, my daughter's playmates were from the minority, and boy, was I made to feel it.Church people were amongst the worst. Gossip at the school gate eh? Petition.Nice.And I bet little ears take it all in.Another post of mine that I feel like deleting because it's too long.Courage,caution, strength. Please be aware that under the outward appearance of tact, politenes and caution on the part of teachers, there is a steely resolve to do the right thing. Hands that accept a petition,are only an arms length away from a heart that rejects it.From p.t.

gracie1956 said...

My biggest fear is what will happen to my daughter when I am no longer here to protect her from idiots. No, I can't protect her all of the time or from everyone who would harm her but I damn sure try. When they hurt her feelings I can remind her that they are idiots. I guess some would say I should teach her to forgive them but I think she probably knows how to do that. I just want her to know that they are idiots and that it is OK to be angry at them. I think people with disabilities have had enough of the "be nice" BS shoved at them.

Anonymous said...

Forgiveness is entirely compatible with recognising idiots for what they are. It also isn't compulsory.