Staff Orientation Learning Modules: History & stereotypes we are working to change
We seek to expand lives through the experience of post-secondary education
When we are supporting people to be included, we tend to find our selves in uncomfortable situations and conversations. This is because we are constantly in resistance to a history of segregation and exclusion, and stereotypes associated with the labels of the people we work for, and it is important to be able to understand this is where that discomfort comes from. This understanding helps us to realize that it is not enough to simply put students in to an inclusive situation, we must think carefully about what lowered expectations by other might exist for the student s in the space because of their internalization of this societal way of seeing disability.
To do this well, we must understand these stereotypes and this history in order to ensure that the way we are supporting someone is not unknowingly reinforcing a negative societal perception. As facilitators become more experienced it becomes it easier and easier to anticipate and navigate these situations, and often that confidence comes from continually increasing their understanding of stereotypes and contexts that are influencing the situation. Like everything we do, this is a constant point of reflection, and conclusions will be different for everyone and every situation.
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, but did express 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 kids films, 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 connect us to the hiring manager for the coffee shop down the hall about a position for another student instead.
Labels, Stereotypes & Medicalization
The definition of developmental disability is directly connected to the developmental of IQ testing. People who fall below a certain IQ level have been classified and categorized as having a "developmental disability." This has also lead to the medicalization of labels like down syndrome and autism, which many argue do not necessarily have a link to health issues.
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.”
Tim Weinkauf, Alberta Persons with Developmental Disabilities Program
Below is a first person perspective about the ways that stereotypes and labelling are acted out in small ways for the daily lives of people with cognitive (developmental) disabilities.
"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."
- Joe Dickie [source]
How would understanding how people with disabilities have been historically excluded from plenty of places/opportunities on the basis of ability help you to articulate the 'belonging' of people with developmental disabilities in an academic classroom?
What are some ways we can help the students we work for articulate or demonstrate their value through participating in University or College? What are the dangers of failing to do this?
As people without developmental disabilities, how can we become comfortable speaking about these idea without having personal experiences to draw on?
Policy in Practice: Although it can feel weird initially not to disclose someone's label when it is obvious, 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 asking: "what do I need to know about this person to include them well?" E.G. 'He learns best through pictures, 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!)
Bonus reading: "The Damage of Labels" by Pat Worth
"Long Ago" History
Segregation and institutionalization of people with developmental/intellectual/physical/cognitive disabilities came, in part, from the eugenics movement. The philosophy of eugenics was to solve social problems through intervention from government for people who had "inferior" genes were identified. These interventions were intended to "safeguard society" and included isolating them from the rest of society, creating laws requiring forced sterilization and against procreating. Families who had a child with a disability were often assumed to have done something wrong to create something 'unnatural' and actively encouraged or forced to put their children into institutions.
"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)." [source]
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 the colour of their skin 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.
In the past 50 years, people came together in the "Community Living" (also known as the "Family Movement") and began to fight for de-institutionalization in Canada. Policies and programs were implemented to make this possible, including funding for supports required to live independently. Federal changes included funding citizenship rights becoming part of the Canadian Bill of Rights and signing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of persons with intellectual disabilities. The Community Living movement continues, with Community Living branches operating at national, provincial and local levels across Canada.
B.C. is now institution free, but the same is not true in the rest of Canada. This group drove across Canada in a bus to raise awareness of the ongoing issue of institutionalization & documented their experiences and stories.
The community living language in BC is confusing:
BCACL - The BC Association for Community Living. This is the former name of the provincial branch of Community Living. Their goal is to support families in the province who have a person in their family with a developmental disability. They provide links to resources, run program and run conferences. They are now called "Inclusion BC" and are part of a network of "ACLs" across Canada & the world.
CLBC - Community Living BC. This is the Crown Corporation that funds supports for individuals between 19 and 65 with barriers to living independently.
Timeline of the "Family Movement" in British Columbia [wikipedia]
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)
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
2003 – founding of STEPS Forward Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Society!
2004 – Establishment of CLBC – Crown Corporation
How is "community living" different than "inclusion"?
How do we articulate the dangers of segregated options to people who do not have an understanding of this history? How is this different for other groups that were also formerly segregated?
What is the difference between how society perceives citizenship for people with physical or learning disabilities versus people with developmental disabilities?