Monthly Archives: October 2010
A recent Ask Amy column featured a letter from a reader with a problem I suspect at least some FWD readers (and contributors) can sympathise with: Handling food allergies when you’re invited to a friend’s for dinner.
Dear Amy: My neighbor recently hosted a very nice dinner party with food and entertainment. I attended and had a great time. The problem is that the host noticed I was skipping several of the dishes and asked why.
I explained that I have severe food allergies so I took only those foods I can safely eat. I had plenty to eat, and it was delicious.
The hostess became very upset with me because I did not advise her in advance of my allergies.
I felt that rather than have her change her menu it made more sense to simply skip those dishes not suitable for me. Was I wrong? I was trying to be polite. — Baffled Guest
I definitely respect this strategy; sometimes, when you try to tell a host about an issue beforehand, you get heaving sighs and an expression that clearly says ‘oh, dear, I wish I hadn’t invited you.’ And then, your host will assure you that all the food is safe to eat, oh, except for the thing you’re allergic to in the stuffing, but you can just pick it out, right? This person has apparently adopted the ‘checking to see what I can eat and going from there’ approach to handling food allergies, quite possibly after one too many dramas. And evidently, a pleasant time was had by the guest, so what’s the problem here?
As for the hostess, well…yes, by all means, get upset at someone who was trying not to make a fuss. That will definitely encourage the person to want to return the invitation, and to want to bring up said food allergies with other dinner invitations in the future. For sure. Nothing like being lectured to make you feel supergreat!
Here’s what Amy said:
Dear Baffled: You were not impolite. Your hostess, however, wasn’t quite polite.
Generally, depending on the type of party, it is fine to let a host know in advance, “I have some food allergies, but I can usually work around them, so I don’t want you to worry about catering to it.” The host can then decide what, if anything, to try to do about it.
Regardless of the dynamic, it is a real party spoiler when a host lectures a guest after the guest has had a gracious good time.
What Amy missed here was that it’s not that the host ‘wasn’t quite polite.’ It’s that the burden here is still being placed on the person with allergies, not the person doing the entertaining. Maybe I was raised in an odd household, but my father always taught me that Guests Rule, and that I should go to every length to make them comfortable and happy in our home, a habit I keep up in my own home. If a guest specifically has to ask for something, I am doing something wrong.
Which is why, when I invite people over for dinner, I always ask if there are any special food concerns (dietary, religious, or otherwise), and specifically ask if there are any dishes my guests simply don’t like. It only takes a second, and if I’m confused, I simply ask for clarification. It’s really not that difficult. And it lets my guests know that their comfort and enjoyment is paramount in my mind. If I encounter a restriction I’m not familiar with, I take it as an exciting challenge; it means I can hit the recipe books and get experimenting!
Menu planning takes work, and thinking about the needs of your guests should be part of that work. And a hostess who lectures guest is someone who clearly fails at hospitality.
Almost, but not quite, a year ago today I put a call out on my personal journal looking for recommendations or lists of YA books that feature characters with disabilities.
From that call out, I got just under 200 books (many listed multiple times), as well as lists of book recs from other sources.
I’m still going through and sorting them, looking for reviews of the books, but I thought it might be interesting to discuss here any pros & cons of the books listed, and the books that are included in other lists.
Part of the reason I like books like this is that the response to pop culture criticism from a disability-rights standpoint often is met with “But, what sort of stories do you want us to tell?” or “Telling such stories is difficult!” I want to generate a list of fiction that shows that yes, people with disabilities have stories – and not all of them are magical cures or dreams of being non-disabled. (Certainly not all of the books below don’t fall into those various traps – in the document I’m finishing up right now, many are flagged up as problematic, so this is more a book list than a book recommendation list!)
So, share your thoughts! What books would you recommend? Do you see any books on this list that you want to gush about, or point out as a problem? Anything you’d love to discuss with other readers? Feel free to link reviews of the books (your own or someone else’s), especially if they specifically mention the disability-related aspect.
Please flag up any spoilers in your comments.
The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.
The Young Adult Library Association does lists of titles under certain topics every year.
Bodies: “They come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities…love it or hate it, you only have one body.”
K-State Library Subject Guide: Disability.
Below the cut is the list that was generated from the comments on the above-linked post, sorted by author.
Read more: Fiction Book List!
Hello! And welcome to Recommended Reading!
Let’s start with the “stupid and outrageous shit” portion:
Indiana’s budget crunch has become so severe that some state workers have suggested leaving severely disabled people at homeless shelters if they can’t be cared for at home, parents and advocates said. They said workers at Indiana’s Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services have told parents that’s one option they have when families can no longer care for children at home and haven’t received Medicaid waivers that pay for services that support disabled children living independently.
CBS 6 Albany – Assemblyman defends debate comment
Assemblyman Bob Reilly says he was just trying to convey the struggles of a man with a serious disability. It’s the way he did it that is drawing criticism in some parts of the capital region. At a debate Monday night Assemblyman Bob Reilly was making a point about standing up for a person with a disability concerned about funding cuts, when he suddenly appeared to mimic that disabled person.
And now let’s wash that bad taste away!
Biodiverse Resistance – When Will We Be Paid for the Work We’ve Done? [I love people writing about stuff they see here!]
FWD/Forward alerted me to this story, about Mary Brown, a woman with Down’s syndrome who does unpaid volunteer work as a classroom assistant in a “special education” primary school classroom (in the US, although extremely similar things happen in the UK and other places). The news story presents this as an unequivocally good thing, something that is a great beneficial opportunity given to Brown, without ever seeming to consider that there might be some injustice in such a set-up.
Some Assembly Required – The Abstracts of the Mind and the Schizophrenic Metaphor
The problem here being, I rarely speak literally. I speak in abstracts because I think in abstracts. I say I see these things because in my mind, I perceive these things to be just as real as anyone else who would look at a tree in their yard and see that yes, there is a tree there. So when I say I see these things, people assume that I am literally seeing what isn’t physically there, which isn’t necessarily the case. Do I also see things that aren’t there? Yes. Like my blue butterfly, or this little boy that used to keep me company as a child when my friends abandoned me. But other times what I am seeing is what you are seeing – just differently.
Wheelie Catholic – Not a Problem
It was cold last night, perhaps made colder by the fact that I don’t have an accessible thermostat. Of course I could pay to fix that which is my responsibility as a disabled tenant, but I’ve already had to deal with lots of other issues which cost bundles, so it’s a compromise I live with. Like many other issues of access, it’s not a problem until it is. I think that’s why issues of access are often perceived as personal problems, even seen as complaints or gripes, because until you are the one who can’t turn the heat on or get into a place or check out a menu that’s not in Braille etc. it’s not a problem. That’s why living with a disability 24/7 is much different than simulating it.
On Dec. 25 [professional basketball player] Ron Artest will raffle off his ’09-’10 championship ring. Meaning someone is going to end up with the sort of present unavailable to even the nicest on Santa’s list. Last month, Artest announced his intention to give away his ring to raise money for mental health charities, though the details were a little foggy. No more. Raffle tickets — meaning no auction, so the process is commendably egalitarian — will be sold for $2 each though Artest’s website, with a minimum purchase of five. Proceeds will benefit Artest’s charity, Xcel University, then be distributed to a pair of mental health charities to be designated later this month
There’s been a significant push towards deinstitutionalisation in the United States over the last few years, in no small part due to the Olmstead decision, a major ruling by the Supreme Court that I discussed in a bit more detail here. Short version: Unnecessary confinement of people with disabilities has been deemed a civil rights violation. As a result, the Department of Justice as well as a number of disability rights groups have been suing in a number of states to get people out of institutions.
In Georgia last week:
A sweeping agreement this week between the Justice Department and the state of Georgia highlights an aggressive new campaign by the Obama administration to ensure that people with mental illness and developmental disabilities can get services in their communities — and not be forced to live in institutions.
As part of the accord, Georgia agreed to specific targets for creating housing aid and community treatment for people with disabilities. Those with disabilities have often cycled in and out of the state’s long-troubled psychiatric hospitals in the past. The state said it will set aside $15 million in the current fiscal year and $62 million next year to make the improvements. (source)
This is huge, and will get more help to people who need it in Georgia. The DOJ has been on fire this year with Olmstead-related cases, and the Obama administration has been a major player as well when it comes to pushing the DOJ to pursue deinstitutionalisation and more community-based services for people with disabilities. This is often framed as something ‘too expensive‘ for states to afford, which is I guess a nice way of saying ‘your life just isn’t worth that much to us.’
For people struggling to stay out of institutions and stay in the community, for people in the community without adequate care who are facing the possibility of institutionalisation because they don’t have options, and for people in institutions who want out, legal cases like this recent one in Georgia are huge. Potentially even life and death. It’s particularly galling that many states cling to the ‘too expensive’ cloak when organisations like ADAPT have documented that community based services are actually less costly; yes, it’s actually more expensive to force people into institutions than to let them live in their communities and provide them with appropriate assistance.
The agreement focuses on moving people with developmental disabilities out of institutions into community settings, where they can be closer to their community and family. There are 1,800 people in state mental hospitals, 711 of whom have developmental disabilities, which are genetic disorders that cause cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome. Under the agreement, the state will stop admitting people whose primary diagnosis is developmental disability into state hospitals by July 2011, and instead place them directly into community services.
Gov. Sonny Perdue said in a statement, “I am confident that we finally have an agreement that moves us towards our common goals of recovery and independence for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.” (source)
Another important aspect of this agreement involves providing interventions to people at risk of institutionalisation, preferably before they reach the point of needing it. This is key; it’s not enough to simply change the way people are processed when they start interacting with the system, but to identify community-based needs and fill them before those people end up needing emergency care. Early diagnosis and supportive care is an important part of a programme designed to limit institutionalisation, by keeping people out of institutions in the first place.
This case was filed in part to respond to a series of revelations about horrific abuses in Georgia’s institutions, with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution playing a key role in the unmasking of systemic abuse and other problems. What this case represents, in addition to victory for people with disabilities, is also a victory for the free press. The paper’s decision to cover this issue led directly to more public attention and an outcry, and that resulted in positive change for disabled Georgia residents.
Too often, people with disabilities are covered indifferently in the news or set up as figures of tragedy rather than human beings with their own lives and autonomy and needs. It’s very rare to see one article discussing abuse of people in institutions, let alone to see a series of articles, including investigative journalism, delving deep into this issue and presenting information to members of the public.
I wish that more papers around the United States and in other regions of the world were doing this, because too often I encounter the attitude that institutionalisation should be considered the first option, and that ‘those people’ (you know the ones) would just be better off in institutions. People are routinely shocked when I provide statistics about abuse in institutions, and they shouldn’t be. The fact that they are is indicative of the paucity of coverage disability issues receive in the media.
As s.e. wrote about in a post earlier this week, I am a cartoonist in addition to all the other crap that I do. I’ve been drawing (and writing) for most of my life, and finding the perfect pen has been something of a wild turkey-chase with mixed results. I know that an entire post devoted to pens may seem silly, particularly given the more serious things that I have written about here on FWD. Re-reading some of Amanda‘s Things That Make My Life Easier posts has inspired me to write about…well, writing (and drawing) implements, because the right ones do make things easier for me.
I first read about the pain-reducing benefits of felt-tip pens in the second edition of Starlanyl and Copeland’s Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain: A Survival Manual; the authors, both medical professionals, include the use of felt-tip pens in a lengthy list of tips designed to reduce pain on an everyday basis. Felt-tip pens tend to be easier on the hands and joints. My one huge issue with felt-tips, however, is that many of them produce stronger lines than I would like. This is more of a problem when I attempt to use them for artistic purposes, as I don’t mind a little more heft in my hand-written notes and scribbles. I do use felt-tips on occasion in my cartoon work — especially for panel borders and heavy lines — just not very often.
Felt-tips are good for writing, but depending upon what sort of lines you’d like in your artistic works, the ease of use that felt-tips produce may be their only advantage. Obviously, they’re not the greatest for detail work. I tend to shy away from brushes and pens that require the use of an inkwell or a separate bottle of ink, as the gorgeous lines one can produce with those tools so often translates into absolute hell on my hand and wrist joints, plus a lot of repetitive motion from dipping the brush or pen into the ink and bringing it back to the page (which often equals further hell).
Ball-point pens that don’t have a lot of ink “flow,” in my experience, aren’t great for cartooning either, though they can be useful for storyboards and quick sketches. The ball-points that have worked the most effectively for me have been the “business”-type pens that most folks associate with actual business work. Perhaps people in business have to write things quickly and therefore cannot depend on crappy ball-points and/or face the frustration that inevitably arises when said crappy ball-point runs out of ink. Non-crappy ball points, such as the Uni-ball line of products, may be a bit more expensive than “traditional” ball-points, but if you want a smooth line that is not going to translate into extreme wrist or hand pain, a “business” pen of this sort might be for you.
Another pen type with which I have had some success has been actual drawing pens; many brands are available at art-supply stores or bookstores. I have found that experimentation with different types of pens is a good bet, if you’ve got the time for it (and assuming that you are cool with dropping a couple bucks on pens that might be either awesome or a total disaster). The Preppy fountain pen, made by Japan’s JetPens, may be a good bet for people who would like to experiment with fountain pens and the lines that these pens can create, but who may not have the time, energy or inclination to use a more traditional fountain pen (it has a reloadable ink-cartridge system that is very convenient). There is also the Stabilo brand, which I discovered quite by accident in the clearance rack of an art supply store (I bought a couple specifically because they were on sale). I use the Point 88 type because it’s light, comfortable to hold and can do excellent detail work, but your artistic/writing mileage may vary.
There is no “perfect” pen, of course, but there are some damn good ones out there if you’ve got the inclination to experiment.
This actually went up a few days ago, and it is awesome.
Sharon’s hosted the First Assistance Dog Blog Carnival at After Gadget.
From the tremendous response of the AD blogging community, it seems as if I’m not the only one who is excited to share an AD “First” with our readers. In fact, the themes of excitement, joy, and pride run throughout the blogs in this edition. There were also a lot of blogs on the same or similar topics. I had hoped to be able to amply blurb/review every submission, but in the end it felt like it would make this post too long and repetitive. So, I have highlighted those that stand out for me in some way in each category — sometimes because a piece is written particularly well, other times because it covers an unusual topic or takes it on in an unusual way — but also included the links for other worthy posts in each category.
Enjoy! If you can’t read them all today, bookmark the page and work your way through the rest over time.
Diane Shipley is a freelance writer obsessed with feminism, US TV, memoirs and pizza. She writes about those things and more at her blog, the imaginatively-named Diane Shipley Blogs (http://blog.dianeshipley.com) and is almost always on Twitter (username: @dianeshipley).
You’re intelligent, personable, and get good grades. It might look like higher education is a given.
But it isn’t. Not when you have a disabling illness. Then, making it to graduation could be more challenging than you ever imagined.
Last year, I tried to finish the degree I dropped when I got ill back in 1998. The disability services department at my new university contacted me the summer before I started my course, asking what extra help I would need.
I had never been a student with disabilities before, so I couldn’t anticipate all the challenges I might face. But the system for reporting those I was aware of seemed doomed to failure: a disability advisor emailed my department in the first week of the semester to advise them that I needed my seminars and lectures to be accessible. Inevitably, this was too late. One of my lectures was in a building with a lift that was almost always out of order, leaving me the choice of missing out or making myself ill. And my registration experience was disastrous.
Registration and enrolment were in two separate buildings nowhere near each other. As no buses ran in that direction, this meant a fifty-minute round trip on foot, well beyond what I could cope with. So I emailed the university to explain this, asking if I could register and enrol online, instead.
Here’s where I point out something that should be obvious but seems not to be: when disabled students express a preference, it shouldn’t be brushed aside in favour of what administrative staff would prefer. Being assertive can be very difficult, especially in situations where someone has power over you. Expressing one’s needs can also be embarrassing, as many long-term illnesses and disabilities are stigmatised. It’s an issue that deserves to be treated with sensitivity, but too often isn’t.
Instead of granting my request, a member of staff from registry services suggested I meet her late in the afternoon, instead. Because her address was at the end of her email, and was somewhere I could access by bus, I agreed. But when I went to her office at 5 PM on registration day, the shutters were closed. Tired, upset, and alone, I vented on Twitter: “I don’t think this university cares about disabled students.” Then I called my mum in tears and she offered to leave work and drive me to the building where registration was taking place. I finally made it and explained the mix-up to one of the staff, who said someone there wanted to speak to me.
The head of registry services strode over and introduced herself, a stern expression on her face. She then shouted that I couldn’t say what I liked on Twitter without giving them “right of reply” and that the university did care about disabled students. “I’m fully conversant in equality law,” she snapped. When I mentioned the mix-up over where I was registering, she said that perhaps I should read emails more carefully in future.
She wasn’t wrong: I could have double-checked. But in my defence, starting university was an overwhelming undertaking, and confusion and anxiety are big parts of my illnesses. I had also made the mistake of assuming that no-one would suggest we meet somewhere I had specifically said I couldn’t access.
I was finally able to register but because of the delay, I couldn’t get into the student intranet until two days later, so the seminars I wanted to sign up for were full. This meant that instead of organizing them at times to suit my illness, I had to take whatever was left. When I contacted my departmental disability liaison officer to ask if I could be squeezed into more convenient seminars for a couple of subjects, he demurred, and I got the impression he thought I was trying it on. I didn’t have the energy to argue that this seemingly small issue was essential to the management of my illness.
As I thought I would, I struggled with my schedule. Ten hours of class time isn’t much, but I hadn’t counted on the extra time I’d need to walk to lectures (and then sit down and catch my breath). In retrospect, I needed to take taxis to my classes. But I was reluctant to organise this because one of the disability support staff told me that some taxi drivers were “funny” about short journeys.
But my biggest challenge was the fire alarms, which went off once or twice a week. We would traipse out of the classroom, walk down three or four fights of stairs, stand around for ten minutes, and then go back up again. I had no idea what disabled students were supposed to do, and didn’t know who to ask, so I just struggled on, my muscles spasming from pain and stress.
I know what some people will think: maybe I was too ill to be at university in the first place. But I had a good reason for attempting it: money. In England, if you’re on a full-time course, you are entitled to loans, grants, and bursaries, which add up to (just about) enough to live on. A part-time student is only entitled to £225 a year. So I took a risk.
It’s a risk that failed. Although I could cope academically, physically I was falling apart. After five weeks, I suffered a severe stress-induced relapse and the university recommended I take a leave of absence. This meant I wouldn’t have to reapply if I felt well enough to return, but I wouldn’t be entitled to student finance or disability benefits during this time, either. I only scraped by thanks to my overdraft, a little writing work, and my supportive parents.
This summer, I had to decide whether or to go back. I decided against it. I didn’t feel well, and I didn’t feel welcome.
I don’t think my experience is unique: I suspect it is more common than universities realize. The way I was treated is part of a much larger problem: how we, as a society, view people with disabilities. We need to stop being surprised when someone has special needs, and there needs to be a socially acceptable way of saying “I can’t do that,” or “I need more help”, especially in educational institutions and the workplace.
Policies like the British government’s plan to reduce the number of people claiming disability benefits (without regard for the number of people with disabilities) perpetuate the sadly still prevalent belief that those of us who have disabling illnesses which are not terminal or immediately visible are lazy, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact is, students with disabilities need better support. An attempt to understand and cater to students’ individual needs rather than just paying lip service to the idea of equality would be an excellent start.
Readers beware! Not every link is a guaranteed trip to a safe space, and the commentary is not necessarily the opinions of myself or others here at FWD/Forward, but have been included to provide you with a variety of reading that is possibly relevant to your interests (or perhaps to mine). The comments in the blog posts or mainstream news articles you will find below may or may not be triggering to various -isms, and so I would caution you, gentle readers, to proceed with the greatest of caution as you click through away from this page.
Yahoo! News: Nurse error left man brain-damaged
Mr Merrett was aware of the mistake that had been made before he lost consciousness, unable to speak. He can be heard on the film urgently clicking his tongue as a warning.
Ms Aylward tried to resuscitate him but it took 21 minutes for the machine to be restarted by paramedics, leaving Mr Merrett with serious brain damage. He had been nursed at home since 2002 after a road accident left him paralysed from the neck down.
In a strange land (sent in by reader Deborah Russell): The slow reveal
That’s one of the things I like about this book. It doesn’t try to pretend that illness is easy, that everyone can just take the pills and be happy. Kate de Goldi’s characters cope, but there are costs for each of them too. Above all, there are costs for Francie. She has found a way of living, a way of managing, a way of being… content, even if not happy per se. But there are costs. Fancie is no super-crip. She’s just an ordinary woman, who copes as best she can with the way her life has turned out.
The Living Artist (sent in by Heather Freeman): Withdrawal
I see my doctor once a month for a new prescription, because she won’t give me one with refills. (To be honest, I’m unclear if this is her policy, the hospital’s policy, or state law. My impression is that it’s the hospital.)
Last month the one person in her office who knows how to work the computer was out, so I had to have my husband call in to make my next appointment. By the time he got through to the office (which is incrediblyhard to reach by phone) their next available appointment was 6 weeks after the last one. He pointed out that I would run out of my medication before then, and they said they’d see what they could do. Of course we then heard nothing.
Since I have FSD, I have vested interest in learning more about it – what it is, what treatments are or aren’t available, how it impacts individuals’ lives (if at all,) etc. It’s not just reading though – I’ve talked to and received feedback from women who themselves have FSD in one or more forms. I’m especially interested in how FSD is perceived and what people say about it! It’s meta, and its fascinating. So what are people saying about it? When I read about FSD, I notice a few familiar themes pop up repeatedly…
HealthCanal.com: Controversial Law Improves Care for Serious Mental Illness
Currently 45 states have involuntary outpatient commitment laws, but only a handful are designed with prevention in mind. Kendra’s Law is intended to identify and address at-risk behavior that may trigger the need for hospitalization.
Amid criticism that the law may violate patient rights by mandating treatment, the New York State Office of Mental Health commissioned an independent evaluation of the implementation and effectiveness of the program.
Gentle Readers! Always feel free to send your links for a Recommended Reading to recreading [at] disabledfeminists [dot] com. Be sure to include how you would like to be credited for your great find, and a link to any website you want affiliated with yourself.
This is the third in a three-part post about a talk given by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, about the interactions between people who are mentally ill (her term) and the justice system of Canada. Part 1 briefly discussed the history of the treatment of people with mental illness in Canada, and then described the current situation with regards to the criminal court system. Part 2 discussed the interactions between people with a mental illness and the civil courts. Part 3 will discuss the mentally ill as victims of the justice system.
This post will discuss violence against people with disabilities.
All quotes are from my notes and are not verbatim.
Many Canadians will be familiar with several stories of people diagnosed with a mental health condition being killed by police officers. Byron DeBassige, 28, was shot and killed by police officers in February 2008 (Toronto). Howard Hyde, 45, was tasered and killed by police officers in November 2007 (Halifax). Ashley Smith, 19, committed suicide in jail while prison guards watched in October 2007 (Kitchener). Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas, 25, was shot and killed by police officers in August 2010 (Toronto). While Robert Dziekanski does not appear to have had a mental illness, his “irrational” behaviour after having been detained in the airport for 10 hours is the reason police officers gave for tasering him multiple times and leaving him to die in October 2007 (Vancouver).
The Chief Justice specifically focused on the case of Byron DeBassige, reading from the Toronto Star article I linked above. She went on to state that she believes that the police wouldn’t have shot DeBassige over two lemons and a knife had they known he was ill. In light of the other cases I’ve linked to, I don’t agree with her – in several of those cases the police were firmly and repeatedly told the person they killed was mentally ill. I don’t believe police officers as a whole have risen above the ableist prejudices that lead to psychophobia (fear of people with mental health conditions), simply because there’s been no real attempt in Canada to combat it.1
The Chief Justice went on to discuss how prejudice and fear can affect people with a mental illness: “I’d like to shift the focus to millions of mentally ill people who do not break the criminal law, who remain untreated or inadequately treated, and at liberty. Too often they are simply victims: Victims of discrimination, ignorance, societal inefficiency, and sometimes of violence that too often ends with their death.”
As a woman with a diagnosed mental health condition, I’m twice as likely as my non-disabled counterparts to be the victim of a violent crime, including rape. [Source is PDF] I’m also significantly less likely to be violent than my counterparts. And yet, even on FWD (in comments that are unapproved), it’s not rare for people to equate my diagnosis with abuse. It’s not uncommon for me to be sitting in a classroom of people who know that I campaign for disability rights and have talked a lot about the prejudices that face people with mental health conditions and have my classmates talk about how “crazy” people are violent. After learning I was going to this talk, one of my classmates told me that, should she ever murder someone, she’d claim temporary insanity and just spend a few months in care and then be released. All I could think of was Ashley Smith, who threw crab apples at the postman and died in jail.
The stark truth is too often we discriminate against the ill. We pass them lying on the street but ignore pleas for housing, reluctant to give them jobs even when they’ve struggled valiantly to overcome their illness. We marganilise them.
We need to know more if we’re going to avoid the specter of mentally ill as victims. Related to this is the lack of social coordination on behalf of the mentally ill. All who play a role in an ill person’s life must find ways to communicate and talk to each other. They fall through the cracks. There must be better communication between agencies if we are to prevent more mentally ill people from becoming victims.
This last quote is, in sum, why I felt a lot of frustration with this talk. Throughout, the Chief Justice talked about agencies, she talked about police officers, parole officers, and judges, she talked about what people can do. At no point did she quote an actual person with a mental illness. At no point did she suggest that people talk to those of us who have a mental health condition, and find out what we want and need. At no point did she talk about attempts by the justice system to include people with mental health conditions on tribunals or in the discussions about how the justice system can do better on this issue. Nothing about us without us really shouldn’t be a daring concept, but it seems it is.
Despite all of my complaining, I actually did enjoy this talk. It’s not very often that people admit that prejudice and fear play a strong part in the way people with mental illnesses are treated, by society in general and the justice system in particular. As a Canadian, it makes me happy that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is speaking about this, because her authority lends weight to what she’s speaking of, and because I know the Supreme Court is aware of the issues that she’s raising. I also appreciate that she takes the time to speak on this issue often. I was recently emailed the text of a similar talk she gave in 2005. Making law students and lawyers (as well as the general public) aware of these issues may help prevent future cases like Ashley Smith’s suicide.
I would obviously like that more awareness of these issues was addressed in a helpful and thoughtful manner in the newspapers, in classrooms, and on the internet. Chief Justice McLachlin is doing good work, and I’m very glad of the opportunity presented by Dalhousie University to see her talk in person.
- There is, however, an attempt to point out that “mental illness costs Canadians $51 Billion a year“. I don’t think we battle prejudice against mental health conditions by talking about how much it costs, especially since I think it would be more accurate to say “discrimination and stigma related to mental health conditions costs the economy $51 Billion a year”, but what do I know? I’m just a crazy lady. ↩