Going Against the Grain
When we are supporting people to assume the role of post-secondary student, which is significantly different than imitating the role, we run up against barriers. These barriers may be practical barriers that are easily navigated, but most of the time there is an element of conscious or unconscious devaluation of the student that produces barriers. It is important to recognize these dynamics when we are standing in opposition to a history of segregation, exclusion, and stereotypes associated with the labels of the people we work for.
Through understanding these dynamics we can work strategically to change people's minds and deconstruct stereotypes that limit students.
It is also important for us to understand the history and stereotypes that create devaluing beliefs in order to ensure that the way we are supporting a student is not unknowingly reinforcing a negative societal perception. As we become more experienced navigating and influencing these dynamics it becomes easier to anticipate situations and possible approaches to facilitation. Over time, we can build confidence through the process of continually increasing our understanding of how devaluation is influencing the different situations. Like everything we do, this is a constant process of reflection, and our conclusions will be different for each person and every situation.
As soon as you think you are doing it right, you are doing it wrong!
Example: A student who had graduated spent her summer working for the student union taking tickets at the movie theatre. When she graduated, the employer wished her well but could not hire her back because she was no longer a student, at the time they expressed openness to hiring someone in the future. We were thoughtful about this, and recognized that placing someone with a visible label in the same position might cause that position to be perceived as being "for people like that." Also, the shifts that we could support during the school year were primarily matinees, which were movies targeted to kids, and might reinforce the idea that people with developmental disabilities are inherently more interested in child-like things. We asked the employer if they could provide a reference and connect us to the hiring manager for the coffee shop down the hall about a position for another student instead.
IQ and adaptive functioning assessment tools are the mechanisms used to diagnose intellectual and developmental disabilities, which is a rather ubiquitous term that covers a range of other diagnoses of disability (Eg. Down syndrome, Autism). The field of psychology has a history of pathologizing and medicalizing disability. However, it has been argued that intellectual differences are a naturally occurring phenomenon within humankind. Furthermore, labeling people often sets them up for a life path that underestimates their potential. The following quote from Tim Weinkauf sums this idea up well.
"Each person with a developmental disability deserves to be treated as a unique individual. Labels should be avoided whenever possible. Persons with developmental disabilities have a limitless potential for becoming not what we desire them to be, but what it is within them to become . .... If we believe people are different, we provide support to them in a different way — a way that reinforces difference and further separates them from their co-workers. Specialized, segregated supports that continue to emphasize differences aren’t what people want. There is a more natural way of supporting people by also supporting employers and co-workers to understand how they can be part of the support network in the workplace.”
Below is a first-person perspective about the ways that stereotypes and labeling are acted out in small ways for the daily lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
And one more example provided here is a quote from a mother in BC whose name is Jo Dickie:
"For Drew and other people like him, they never knew how much he understood. Back then, they fell between the cracks. Now it’s wrapped up as a package. Naming it gave people some money – at least they had a label. But I’m still not sold on labels. With a label, it’s “This is what you get.” But that soon turns into “This is what you are.” Labels are not true. Well, it’s not that what a label represents isn’t true, but it puts you into a slot and there you stay for life. People would deny other attributes. They wanted to ignore people because they were “crazy” or an “imbecile.” The label got the attention instead of getting the Drew going."
Example: Although it can feel weird initially not to disclose someone's label when it will become obvious upon meeting a student, we find that doing so does conjure up a certain set of expectations, and that those expectations are typically low. When we are asked the question "can I ask what their disability is?" we try to answer with what they are really trying to ask: "what do I need to know about this person to include them well?"
Eg. 'He learns best through images, and needs step-by-step instructions for each task. He loves interacting with others, especially when he has something to contribute to what is going on." (Much more helpful than a label!)
Long Ago History
There is a long recorded history of disability. Throughout time the definition of disability and the roles associated with disability have been fluid. However, the overarching themes that has come to define disability have mostly been object of pity/charity, sick/diseased, menace and other devalued social roles. These assumptions and beliefs about disability have guided the development of such things as freak shows, medicalized treatments and treatment centers, large-scale institutions, and the practice of eugenics. The following excerpt summarized a provincial policy that guided the classification of individuals admitted to the Woodlands School in New Westminster:
"Inmates of The Woodlands School [in Vancouver] were deemed uneducable. The Schools for Mental Defectives Act of 1953 defined three categories of “mentally defective persons” who could be involuntarily admitted to Woodlands: idiots, imbeciles and morons. Though the three categories were defined by levels of capability, all were considered “incapable... of receiving benefit from instruction in schools” (SMD Act 1953, s. 2)."
The stories about institutions from people with disabilities draw a lot of parallels to the stories from indigenous people who lived through Residential schools. However, while society has come to recognize that the segregation of people based on their cultural identity is wrong, there is still an overall misunderstanding in most of Canada that an act of segregation for someone with a disabilities must be either necessary or beneficial.
A more detailed history of disability can be found here.
Recent HistoryDuring the 1950's, parents of children with developmental disabilities and people who had experience institutionalization came together to create the "Community Living Movement" (also known as the "Family Movement") and began to fight for de-institutionalization and access to education in Canada. The shift from institutionalization towards life in community required the establishment of community based supports and the establishment of a funding model for these supports so that people could move out of the dehumanizing conditions in the large scale institutions. The following video is a trailer for a documentary film called the Freedom Tour. The filmmakers follow the work of activists who travelled across Canada to raise awareness about the conditions in institutions and the need to close them down. B.C. is now institution free, but the same is not true in the rest of Canada. The process of deinstitutionalization is occurring in other provinces, but not without much resistance.
The following timeline, taken from Wikipedia, provides an overview of the Family Movement in British Columbia
1952 – Establishment of Vancouver Association for Retarded Children
1955 – Establishment of BC Association for Retarded Children by seven local parent associations
1958 – Canadian Association Retarded Persons founded (now Canadian Association for Community Living – CACL)
1959 - BC School Act Amendment makes it a public responsibility to educate children with developmental disabilities.
1981 – International Year of Disabled Persons
1982 – Stephen Dawson Supreme Court case establishes right of children with disabilities to receive medical care
1984 – Blockade of Tranquille institution
1985 – Closure of Tranquille Institution
1986 – Family Support Institute founded
1988 – First Federal Election recognizing the rights of people with developmental disabilities to vote
1988 – Establishment of BC Self Advocacy Foundation
1992 – Barb Goode first self advocate to address the United Nations General assembly
1993 – new Adult Guardianship legislation
1996 – closure of Glendale Institution
1996 – closure of Woodlands Institution
2000 – establishment of Representation Agreement Act – first statute in the world to accept caring trusting relationships as a criterion for determining legal capability
2001 – founding of STEPS Forward Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Society!
2004 – Establishment of CLBC – Crown Corporation
At this link you will find a timeline of Inclusive Post-Secondary Education in BC:
Current Examples of the manifestation of low expectations and control in contemporary service settings:
Next: Anti-oppressive Practice