Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Stigma and the Intellectually Disabled

As I think back over Lyn's life, she has experienced the stigma that is often associated with being intellectually disabled.  However, I don't remember it being horrendous.  I can think of some incidents but for the most part, I don't recall it being a daily or pervasive issue.  Perhaps Mom's perspective was different.

I do specifically recall that when we lived in a small town in Montana, Lyn was tolerated by the locals because she was not perceived as a threat to the community.  The term threat is a loaded one here.  We were outsiders and we were not welcomed.  Lyn was tolerated because people assumed that she would never get a job or "take a job from a local."  I did get a job and I was considered a threat.  (Perhaps walking down the street with my pet rat on his leash didn't help.  But that's a different story.)

I encountered an article titled "Is It Possible to End the Stigma of ID/DD?"  It is an interesting article and raised the topic for me.  You could never claim Lyn was lazy or dangerous.  I have, however, seen this claims and this stigma directed to others that Lyn knew from school or Special Olympics.  I have seen people afraid to shake hands or give a hug to someone who is intellectually disabled.  I have seen people who I thought were rational or kind go on a tirade about how individuals with intellectual disabilities are selfish and manipulative.  I even knew one mother (not mine) who would say things like "I guess I have to go pick up the retard (her son) now."  There have been times when I have been aghast at what people say.

That's why I love organizations like Look Cook and Eat, Ruby's Rainbow and Special Olympics which promote knowledge, understanding and positive approaches.  I love reading articles which feature individuals with intellectual disabilities doing what they want to do and being successful.  The more we see, the more we normalize and less stigma remains.

Stigmas be damned!

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