At this watershed moment on the path to inclusion and social justice for people with disabilities, all of us need to think critically about the things “we have always done”, particularly when we convince ourselves of its worth because “the people look forward to it so much”, and “we’ve ALWAYS done it this way”. The strange injustice of hurting by helping too much is one of the harbingers of learning to deeply listen to citizens that have been profoundly wounded by their personal experiences with exclusion. Without objectively questioning activities or at a minimum listening with an open mind to those around us we delay the dream of true inclusion indefinitely.
In this case, I am talking about disability specific social activities – Prom. I will for good measure include dances, cotillions, balls, galas, and camps for children and adults with disabilities. For the love of all things good and decent – proms are for teenagers, full stop. They are not “catch all’s” that should attempt to cure in one evening, all the loneliness that has accumulated over a lifetime. Some of these events have spectacularly large budgets and donations from families and corporations are extravagant and wildly generous and believe it or not, that is a problem.
In an age where citizens with disabilities are being denied the most basic of health care access, and families are being torn apart because of state and provincial regulations that would have citizens be relinquished into systems rather than being welcomed into community, we need our benefactors to turn their social responsibility attention to support areas where funding is most needed and could be used in innovative and enduring ways. Moreover we need to develop the idea that the responsibility for the wellness others rests largely WITH EACH OTHER. We need corporations to hire citizens with disabilities, consider social marketing strategies that would serve to increase the quality of life for all citizens. But sadly Joe’s Mega Stores has used their donation budget for centerpieces at a prom “for those people”.
We know where teens with disabilities belong, with their peers at community and school events. We know where adults with disabilities belong, together with their peers at community events.
Here’s an idea. How about spending half of the money from the dance budget and using it to facilitate welcoming teens at their own high school prom, with their classmates. Hiring warm, talented and connected facilitators to support adults with disabilities to get connected at their churches, community centers, adult recreational sports leagues…places where people come to together to be social and meet other folks who share the same interests.
Lets be honest with ourselves and the rest of the community about the results of segregation. This kind of distraction DOES NOT move the social justice agenda forward, it dilutes the message that citizens with disabilities have important contributions to make in community, and in fact may set the movement back decades
Still not convinced, Google “Jerry’s kids” to find out how former poster children for the MDA telethon reflect on their experiences today. Better yet, set aside a couple of hours and watch Morgan Freeman in “Prom Night in Mississippi”. This is no different people. Segregation is segregation.