By now just about everyone on the planet has seen “the letter” – the hateful letter allegedly delivered by one mother to another, suggesting among other things, the euthanizing of her son, who has autism.
Although I did attempt a few responses in various Facebook threads and newspaper comment sections, it took inspiration from Dave Hingsburger (a frequent source of inspiration for me and countless others in the disability advocacy community) to figure out more or less what I wanted to say (and commented on his blog).
Here’s the thing. To anyone who has been involved even a little in the lives of one or more persons who has an intellectual disability, that letter is not shocking. Because we’ve seen it and heard it all before.
Here’s how I responded on Dave’s blog:
Thank you so much for that Dave. I won’t lie, I’ve been refreshing your blog page knowing it was coming and you did not disappoint!
For anyone even partially involved in disability advocacy, that letter and the response to it has provoked a lot of mixed feelings. For those immersed in these issues, it’s been downright troubling – but it does present an opportunity.
Hatred directed towards people with disabilities can’t be defeated just by saying “I don’t like it” as so many people are currently doing in response to “the letter.”
It’s great that the public have shown overwhelming support, in terms of saying, correctly, that the letter is disgusting, hateful, horrific, nasty.
But if you really want to make a difference, you have to contribute to changing the conditions that make that type of hatred quite common (I recall a CACL report where about 50% of people admitted discomfort just being around a person with an intellectual disability).
Hatred can take the blatant form like “the letter”. But marginalization of people with disabilities happens mainly through our social structures that keep them separate from “the rest of us” and reinforce – if not cause – the bigotry that is actually very common, even if it might not always be so boldly and publicly expressed.
So, if you didn’t like that letter, what are you going to do about segregated (aka “special”) education, living, recreation, and vocation – all the places where the “normal” aspects of life are made different for people with disabilities (particularly people with intellectual disabilities) by separating them from everyone else?
Are you going to advocate with your employer that they hire more people with disabilities? The unemployment rate for people with intellectual disabilities is upwards of 75%. And it’s not because they don’t want to work or can’t work.
Are you going to advocate to your flag football league that they reach out to local organizations who support people with disabilities and let them know that (as your website probably says you do) you truly welcome ALL enthusiasts to join? That you’ve realized not a single person who has Down syndrome has ever joined your league and you wanted some help reaching out, making an invitation, and being welcoming?
Are you going to speak up at school board meetings in response to pro-segregationists and say “Having students with disabilities in the same class as my son won’t hurt my son, it will make him a better student and a better person?”
What will you DO about the circumstances of separation and segregation that help fuel and sustain ignorance and hatred of people with disabilities?
That, my friends, is what I think THE QUESTION should be in response to “the letter.”
And, if you do want to do something, get in touch. I’ve got ideas.