Wednesday, March 07, 2018



There is a lot of talk and some fiery headlines about the 'proms' for people with intellectual disabilities. I've read a number of them and they all say pretty much the same thing and make the same points. All suggest that these events should celebrate all teenagers and that people with intellectual disabilities should be dancing next to typical peers in an integrated event rather than by others with disabilities in a segregated event.

My first response to reading that particular argument is a burning sense of outrage. The suggestion is that people with disabilities are more valued when they are near or with those without disabilities than they are when they are near or with the non-disabled. I shudder at that thought. The idea that the non-disabled just walk in to a room of disabled people and suddenly those there are transported to a place of value and worth appalls me.

The other thing I notice in reading articles like these is that they never, ever, interview people with disabilities who were at the events. No, they interview other disability experts, including people with other kinds of disability, who pronounce condemnation on segregated events but don't pronounce condemnation on the lack of the voices of those who have experienced them as part of the debate.

My second response is, I do! I want and need events or social opportunities with other people with disabilities exclusively. I don't have that, I never have that, but I want that. I get really lonely as, typically, the only one in the room. I would love an opportunity to share experiences and tell stories and relax into my body without fear of attack.

Occasionally I run into another wheelchair user who is willing to chat about the disabled experience and I'm in heaven. It's so nice to be able to say things out loud knowing that you will be understood and validated rather than corrected and have your experience explained away. It takes the aloneness and isolation away.

Who is it to say what disabled people want except disabled people?

Do I like the idea of the 'proms' ... no, I don't.

Do I like events where pity is woven through the fabric of their creation ... no I don't.

But that's not what I'm writing about now. I want to express the danger in determining that all disabled people want to be constantly in the company of the valued. I fear that the teaching that - others with disabilities, less worthy - others without disabilities desired friends - leads to both self hatred and complete isolation.

Every community seeks solace in places created by and for themselves. Gay bars, women's clubs being obvious examples. Do they need to exist? Do people need to self segregate. I'm guessing, maybe, yes.

How that is done may be a question.

That it needs to be done is not.


Anonymous said...

There's a lovely book called "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria" by Beverly Daniel Tatum that gives a wonderfully clear analysis of the general topic of people needing BOTH full inclusion and peer support on whatever axis they are seen as 'different' or treated differently.

From my perspective as a TAB who knows several people with various disabilities, I'm inclined to advocate for both. In the 'prom' example, the same parents who organize the 'regular' prom activities can be the ones to organize a 'just us' prom -- and some students will want to go to both. Which should be fine.

clairesmum said...

And why do we assume it is 'either-or'?
Honestly that human ability - or maybe it is a disability - to insist on sorting people into groups based on 'like me=good, not like me=bad" is infuriating. We are all much more alike than we are different, other than personality styles. Some of this selecting for the familiar is biological, likely a survival mechanism from early in human time.
I moved across the country a few years ago. Now I am aware that there are people who take against me because of my skin color, my age, my shape. I am white, in my 6th decade, overweight, and have gray hair. Interesting experience that has helped me better understand what you write about, Dave. I'm trying to be more aware of how I present myself, making an effort to remain relaxed and try not to take the behaviors personally. But if I had to do that my entire life....I wouldn't be patient or kind anymore.

Ettina said...

The way I see it, seeking community is voluntary. Segregation is imposed.

If a bunch of disabled students expressed a desire to go to a separate prom just for them, or liked the idea when a teacher suggested it, and if they had a choice to go to either prom (or possibly both) and chose to go to the disabled prom, I wouldn't see a problem with it. But if no one interviews the kids who went to the prom, and the organizers never mention the kids' wishes, it's impossible to tell if it was a segregated prom or a disability community prom.

I also don't think segregation is always wrong. Sometimes, it's really the best option. For example, on average, blind kids going to segregated schools typically have better orientation & mobility than blind kids who've been integrated, and Deaf kids who go to schools where their teachers and classmates all sign have better communication, educational outcomes, and social skills. But segregation shouldn't be used to restrict their opportunities. For example, for people with complex communication needs, segregation can mean not being exposed to age and ability-appropriate academic material, because they're believed to be less cognitively capable than they are. But a special education teacher who presumes competence can greatly lessen or eliminate this concern, simply by teaching at an age-appropriate level even if they can't assess comprehension.

In the case of prom, the benefits are social, not academic, of course. I wonder, did this segregated prom interfere with kids hanging out with their friends, or getting a dance with their date or a crush? Did it lead to the perception that their prom wasn't a *real* prom, and their graduation wasn't a *real* graduation? Or was it simply a matter of kids going to a prom with their classmates and not with kids from a different class?

Plus, the more segregated disabled kids are, the less opportunity non-disabled kids have to gain experience with disabled kids as individuals. I see this in a lot of people who believe in the 'autism epidemic'. A lot of them say "I didn't see all these kids with developmental challenges when I was growing up", without realizing that just because they didn't see them doesn't mean they weren't around. They simply went to segregated schools, and the typical kids didn't realize they existed. Having an integrated prom may have been beneficial not just for the disabled kids but for the typical kids as well - letting them see that the disabled kids are there, celebrating just like they are, dancing and enjoying themselves.