There is a lot of talk and some fiery headlines about the ‘proms’ for people with intellectual disabilities. I’ve read a number of them and they all say pretty much the same thing and make the same points. All suggest that these events should celebrate all teenagers and that people with intellectual disabilities should be dancing next to typical peers in an integrated event rather than by others with disabilities in a segregated event.
My first response to reading that particular argument is a burning sense of outrage. The suggestion is that people with disabilities are more valued when they are near or with those without disabilities than they are when they are near or with the non-disabled. I shudder at that thought. The idea that the non-disabled just walk in to a room of disabled people and suddenly those there are transported to a place of value and worth appalls me.
The other thing I notice in reading articles like these is that they never, ever, interview people with disabilities who were at the events. No, they interview other disability experts, including people with other kinds of disability, who pronounce condemnation on segregated events but don’t pronounce condemnation on the lack of the voices of those who have experienced them as part of the debate.
My second response is, I do! I want and need events or social opportunities with other people with disabilities exclusively. I don’t have that, I never have that, but I want that. I get really lonely as, typically, the only one in the room. I would love an opportunity to share experiences and tell stories and relax into my body without fear of attack.
Occasionally I run into another wheelchair user who is willing to chat about the disabled experience and I’m in heaven. It’s so nice to be able to say things out loud knowing that you will be understood and validated rather than corrected and have your experience explained away. It takes the aloneness and isolation away.
Who is it to say what disabled people want except disabled people?
Do I like the idea of the ‘proms’ … no, I don’t.
Do I like events where pity is woven through the fabric of their creation … no I don’t.
But that’s not what I’m writing about now. I want to express the danger in determining that all disabled people want to be constantly in the company of the valued. I fear that the teaching that – others with disabilities, less worthy – others without disabilities desired friends – leads to both self hatred and complete isolation.
Every community seeks solace in places created by and for themselves. Gay bars, women’s clubs being obvious examples. Do they need to exist? Do people need to self segregate. I’m guessing, maybe, yes.
How that is done may be a question.
That it needs to be done is not.