Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Deborah, Ashley's mom over at Pipecleaner Dreams, asked a most excellent question yesterday - Why?

Musing about group homes, day programs and school classrooms one of her daughters has and does know, she simply asks "Why?".
Why don’t people with disabilities deserve lightness, bright rooms, cheery kitchens and the occasional barbecue outside? Why can’t they assist in planting flowers and a vegetable garden at their group homes? Why can’t the draperies be opened more frequently and why can’t pleasant music be playing in the background rather than the constant din of the television?

How can we expect children with disabilities to be excited about going to school when the being there provides nothing visually stimulating? Do school districts think our students with disabilities will learn more if there is nothing but plain green walls to distract them? Why aren't there 'spirit' posters and announcements of school dances in the 'special education' hall? In fact, why is there even a 'special education' hall?

How can we expect our children with disabilities to learn and grow at their day support programs when they dread going there? Why can’t there be celebrations and joy in the places they spend the majority of their day - maybe ice cream sundaes and cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles? Why can't the staff smile more - do they really hate their jobs as much as their faces seem to say? Why must their lives be filled with darkness and gloom? Again, a little paint would go a long way to improving everyone’s moods.

Anyone care to take a crack at it? Anyone at all?

After all, if it were typical children housed or educated in such conditions, parents would be screaming bloody murder, would they not? The community would quickly respond and whoever was operating the institution would likely be shamed into compliance. And, if not, their "customers" would soon be gone elsewhere.

And yet that's not the case here. Why not?

I have a few ideas - ideas formed from years of battles, negotiations and compromises with teachers, doctors and bureaucrats. Yes, a few ideas - and they're all quite sad if true.

My first thought is that, in large part, these situations continue because many people "think" that those who are challenged don't notice their surroundings that much anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

Actually, I doubt that many people even get that far in their thinking. Most people likely don't think about it at all. But for those that have no choice but to confront it (those that are perhaps forced into actually facing these conditions day in and day out as employees), I would not be surprised if, for many, that that is their thought process. Or, at least, what passes for a thought process.

Forget the research that shows how important the characteristics of the physical environment are to a child's learning. That only applies to children. Real children. Real people. Like you and me.

Do we really need research to tell us what we already know, to "prove" that which is really only common sense - that a mentally challenged person is first a person; that the physical environment is just as important for him or her as it is for you and I?

I also think that some people condone the present situation as a way to save "scarce" resources - why spend time and money on such things when it doesn't matter much anyway (see above)? And when there are so many other places that need repairing and updating - places where typical children are educated, for example.

The most guilty of all would be those who question why time and money should be spent in such places when they regard (whether consciously or unconsciously) the individuals who live, work or go to school there as "less than".

As in noticing less than others.

Needing less than others.

Deserving less than others.

And although the case might be made that this is not a condition confined to the disabled, that individuals in poorer communities or the aged, for example, often experience similar physical environments, I have to ask how that justifies any of it.

Is it really okay to treat any segment of the population (be it on the basis of ability, age, income or race) as less than, as being as entitled to less than what the community would accept for it's own children or other family members?

Is there ever any justification for any one of us, personally, to consider it acceptable for any segment of the population to be treated with any less care, compassion and consideration than that we would expect demand for our own family members?

How do you justify the unjustifiable?


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