Ivanova Smith, a former intern from The Arc of King County who has autism, is our blogger this month. She is a strong advocate for disability rights, and an equally passionate advocate for civil rights for everyone. She can often be seen in Olympia or at special events around the state making sure that people with I/DD are being represented and are getting equal treatment.
“Go Big” Idealism
Some people tell me that I’m too idealistic. But what’s wrong with idealism when it means creating a world where everyone with a disability has their freedom?
Some people believe that people with severe disabilities can’t handle the type of freedoms that we are fighting for all people to share. They separate us by ability but whether we are ‘high functioning’ or ‘lower functioning’, we all share the same desires. We don’t want to be imprisoned! We want to get equal wages for our work! We want to be treated with respect! We want to be included!
These people claim we are too idealistic, but people thought that Martin Luther King was unrealistic too!! The civil rights movement for black citizens asked for the same basic rights we are seeking. People with disabilities desire inclusion. They may think that my “Go Big” idealism is it too much ask for, but Dr. King and I disagree with them.
I advocate against institutions because people like me just want our freedom to live in the community. Yet the people who support institutions act like we are too idealistic. They believe that living in an institution is not imprisonment. They refuse to acknowledge how many rights are taken away from the people who are institutionalized.
There is another part of this that really bothers me. When I attend legislative hearings, I hear some parents complain about their DD children to the legislature. I don’t understand how they call their own children a burden. When I hear this, it crushes me. It hurts just like when someone calls me retard over and over again. It is degrading.
These comments make me sad and confused, especially when the same people then try to act nice to me. They say terrible things about their children and then smile and try to be friends with self-advocates like me. It’s painful to experience, yet I face it a lot during the legislative session. They claim to be allies in some ways, but they complain when people like me want to close institutions and end sheltered workshops.
They may not understand it, but not allowing us to be equal and making excuses to exclude us is more offensive than the R-word to me. There are lots of ways to degrade someone with disabilities without using the R-word.
- Tell me I don’t deserve my rights.
- Describe people like me as a burden to the legislature.
- Pay me less for my work
- Tell me that I belong in an institution.
Many people know about, and have joined, the campaign started by Special Olympics and Best Buddies, to ‘spread the word to end the word’. The word ‘retarded’ has hurt our community, but negative attitudes about people with I/DD have hurt us more. A single word doesn’t have the power to exclude us; it’s societal attitudes that isolate us! If you say you won’t use the R-word but still support institutions, then I don’t think you really understand the message.
I don’t want to just ban a word. I want to change a mindset! I want people to see us as equals. People with I/DD are epic people, with an epic culture, and I want that culture to be celebrated. The only way to do that is to include us equally, in everything. Let’s GO BIG together and change people’s minds.