“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Not playing with a full deck"

When someone is referred to as "Not playing with a full deck" the implication is that they aren't all there, that there is something that is lacking. I find that with some of my friends with disabilities that they are not playing with a full deck. But not in the sense of lacking something like intellect, or physical abilities due to a disability, but they are not playing with a full social deck of cards. Because of their sometimes devalued status, they lack the social capital to get what they want or need. They therefore play the cards that are often buried in most of our social decks. Because of their sometimes hurting condition (socially and otherwise) cards of strength are not played. Rather cards intended to cause guilt, cards that reflect anger, cards that reveal their lonliness or their expectations. It is easy to have those cards played on you and respond, "What did I do to make you angry?" or "It is not my fault that you are lonely" or "I cannot meet your expectations because I work, have a family, have other responsibilities." It is easy to meet these accusing cards with rejection, particularly if you (like me) are pretty much unaffected by those who attempt to foster guilt in you.

I remember when I taught students with serious emotional problems. They would threaten me and swear at me, and try very hard to get me upset. At times they were successful. But I grew to understand that those attacks were their disability speaking. So, just as I wouldn't condemn a person with an intellectual disability who couldn't do math, I can't condemn a person with an emotional disability who can't do social interactions. It is their disability speaking. In the process, if I am able to keep my composure, they learn acceptance and love and I learn patience and how to love people who are difficult to love. I will tell you honestly, however, that I prefer not to learn those lessons. I prefer to be appreciated and told that I am wonderful. Not to be told that I am uncaring and unresponsive. The issue is not whether my disabled friend is telling the truth about me (particularly when I don't think he is), the issue is what will I do with a person who is not playing with a whole social deck and is left to playing cards that will contribute to his exclusion and ostracism; a fact that he is oblivious to.

On occasion, some of these friends will find an encouragement card, or a gratefulness card and I delight when these are played both for the way that they make me feel, and that my disabled friend who played the card was, in that moment, of such a positive mindset that they were able to find that buried card somewhere, pull it out and play it.

The bottom line of this is that loving other people is hard, particularly hurting people. The relationship does not feel like it is 50-50 in effort or kindness or forgiveness. But once again it relates to who I compare myself to. I as a socially competent, successful person with a jovial personality from a Christian home look pretty good when I compare myself with a lonely, dependent person from an abusive home, experiencing the social consequences of disability and living on social security. I come off quite good in such a comparison. But I am playing with a stacked deck compared to many of my friends. I have more aces than the average person, and they may not even have a face card. Once I realize that, the rules of the game change...for me. To whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48). This verse applies to all areas of life including social interactions and I need to pause, and not respond in kind but in kindness.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Event at Cal Baptist featuring Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger

As a reader of this blog, you will recognize the name Wolfensberger. Dr. Wolfensberger has had a significant impact on the way I see services for persons with various disabilities. He will be coming to Cal Baptist, Feb 27 & 28 to do a training on The history of human services. It will be excellent! See a description of the event below.

A two-part two-day presentation on the history of human services, tracing the origins of some of our major contemporary service patterns, & some universal lessons which can be learned from this history.
Presented by Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger, and Ms. Susan Thomas of Syracuse University’s Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership and Change Agentry

Dates & Times:
9am-430pm each day
Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28, 2010

Yeager Center, California Baptist University

75$ per person for Day 1 only
125$ per person for both days.
In order to attend Day 2, participants MUST first have attended Day 1.Reductions in the fee are available; contact the registrar.

Description of the presentations:
For each day, the entire morning, and part of the afternoon, are devoted to presentation of content. This is followed by open-ended questions-and-discussion for the remainder of the afternoon.

Using several hundred slides from many (often obscure) sources, this two-part presentation documents the evolution of major human service concepts and practices from ancient, informal, voluntary, unpaid personal helping forms to the largely commercialized patterns that we see today. Especially, illustrations of the architecture of human service settings will be used to show what the service patterns and assumptions were in a given era, and how they changed over time.

The first part of the presentation (Day 1) will sketch important prehistoric and pre-Christian antecedents of current human service patterns, and will show that the history of human services of all types in inextricably intertwined with the history of care for the poor, and of residential services. The evolution of human services into the late Medieval period will be traced, and the impact of the collapse of medieval services preceding and during the Reformation will be explained. The presentation will also explain the negative effects of political and economic changes during the period of absolutism in the 16th-17th centuries.

The second part of the presentation (Day 2) will explain how services became alienated from their valued cultural roots and analogues, and how service recipients of all kinds began to be interpreted as menaces and treated accordingly in brutalizing fashion. At the end of Day 2, universally applicable lessons from this historical review will be drawn, as well as some lessons that are more particular to contemporary services.

The entire presentation will demonstrate how the following current human service ideas evolved: that bigger services are better services; that afflicted people are a menace to society; that segregated services are preferable to integrated ones; and that service recipients should be thankful for what they receive from service workers. The presentation will demonstrate that human service concepts were propagated rather uniformly throughout the westernized world, and leapt across barriers of language, nations, and culture, as early as medieval times. Even then, there was an international human service community which was very well informed of innovations anywhere, so that innovation was often copied elsewhere as quickly as it is today. It will also show how human services are more effective when they are deeply rooted in the historical traditions and values of their culture, and that the drift of services away from cultural-rootedness and toward non-normative and culture-alien approaches contributes so much of the disfunctionality that infects current human service structures and practices.

The presentation as a whole will compellingly demonstrate that human services are full of practices which are now carried on unconsciously, but which are actually vestiges of distortions of practices that were originally instituted with high consciousness.

Even in advanced graduate training, there is very little teaching of this history of human services. This material is relevant to every human service worker, form those on the direct clinical level to those at the highest planning levels, including service professionals and non-professionals, clinicians, advocates, volunteers, administrators, planners, theorists, and analysts. Attendance at the presentation can help anyone gain a better understanding of the service challenges that confront them, some of the dangers that lurk everywhere, and what sorts of service patterns to strive for. Many people who have attended this presentation have remarked that it fundamentally altered their perception of many human service patterns and that it helped them to understand -often for the first time- some of the things they had witnessed, or of which they were a part, or to which they had contributed. Persons who have been through PASS or PASSING training will also find that the presentation can help them greatly to master the very challenging issue of “model coherency” of human services.

Each day there will be a break for lunch and short breaks in mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Because of the highly sequential nature of the material, no one may be admitted to Day 2 of the presentation who has not been to Day 1.

Who should attend:
The presentation is relevant to anyone who is involved in any way in any kind of human service to any societally devalued group in any service field. For instance, for people involved/interested in residential and institutional services, the presentation shows how various specialized institutions grew out of the multi-purpose institution and workhouses for all kinds of afflicted and poor people of the 1600-1700s, which in turn grew out of the small, early Christian hospices.

Of special interest to people who are involved/interested in nursing homes, medicine, and psychiatric services, the presentation will trace several practices and typical architectural styles found in current medical settings from their origins in the practices and structures of early Christian residential services for the sick, pilgrims, and the poor. For example, it will be shown how the nurses’ station evolved from the early Christian service practice of placing an alter in the service setting so that all people there could see and hear the Mass being said. Also, considerable coverage is given to the impact of infections disease, the role of leprosy and the plagues on the design of other kinds of services, and the role of “miasmic theory” of disease propagation. Similarly, the ties of hospitals and other medical settings to concentration and death camps will be documented. For example, the evolution of the tuberculosis sanitarium from the pesthouses of the 1500-1600s will be documented, as well as how different kinds of quarantine-related institutions contributed to the development of concentration camps. It will also be shown how some famous institution architectural designs that are still copied today grew out of the miasmic theory that human afflictions were passed on by winds and “vapors.” The negative features of the separation of medicine from its ties to philosophy and religion, and its conversion into an essentially materialistic science, will also be noted, particularly in regard to the field of psychiatry. Slides will be shown that illustrate the mechanical (and rather brutal) psychiatric treatment devices which sprang up mostly during the 1800s, largely in response to psychiatry’s rejection of the “moral treatment” reform of mental health services.

Of special interest to people involved/interested in prisons and corrections services, the presentation will show how many of the concepts in the prison system and prison architecture of today are actually corruptions and perversions of very noble ideals. For example, it will be shown how prisons lost their culturally normative appearance; that the guard station and gun emplacements in so many prisons are descendents of an earlier custom, in which the altar was the focal point of the setting; and how, over time, prisons came to be located away from population centers and to acquire all sorts of menace imagery.

To register
Contact Dr. Jeff McNair (California Baptist University, 8432 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, CA 92504, phone 951/689-5771, fax 951/343-4553, email:jmcnair@calbaptist.edu. Upon registration, registrants will receive information, including on accommodations.

This event is sponsored by,
The Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP)
The Disability Studies Institute at California Baptist University
California Baptist University Faculty
Inland Empire Autism Society of America (IEASA)

Like a child

I haven't been blogging as much lately because I have been writing articles for several outlets. I am excited about the articles. Here is a cut from one article that has to do with Jesus and disability. I am sure the final will be much different from this passage, but it was helpful to think through this issue, even though it is still in rough stages. Here goes...

Let's begin this discussion with a story. The first author once interviewed a man with intellectual disabilities in front of one of his classes. When asked if he had a disability, the man responded, “I don’t know, I don’t think so.” The author responded, “Do you know anyone with a disability?”, knowing that the man knew many others with intellectual and physical disabilities. He looked up in thought, paused and thought for a moment. “I can’t think of any,” he replied. That, the authors would argue, is how God sees people. It is not that differences are not seen or even ignored. Is that disability is not the defining characteristic of a person. Persons have value because they are persons, not for the skills or abilities that are brought to the table. In reality, it is those who are most dependent who might be God’s preference. “He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:28 & 29). Also, “it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8 & 9). There is equality among people, and those who are the most gifted in terms of ability should not be catered to if the Christian or the Christian church is to reflect God’s preferences. If anything, those who are typical or above average are warned, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).

Jesus also makes several allusions to people becoming like children and welcoming children or those who are like children. One must tread carefully as the point we are trying to make here is not that individuals with intellectual disabilities are children or should be treated like children. There is a danger in juxtaposing people with intellectual disabilities with anything that is child oriented as it feeds into inappropriate and wrong social constructions of who people with disabilities are (Wolfensberger, 2000). But Jesus tells us that we should have childlike faith, that we should humble ourselves like a child (Matthew 18:2-4) and that we should welcome little children (Matthew 18:5). Let’s consider each of these points briefly.

People with intellectual disabilities often do evidence a childlike faith in that they believe what they are told about God by those around them in a very unquestioning manner. Intellect, although a great blessing, may interfere with the childlike faith Jesus is referencing. This is not to say that faith is not based upon intellect, but that the complete trust in God, like a child trusts her parents, is what is desired. There is a questioning that comes with intellect that may interfere with a wholesale giving over of oneself to the person in whom one has faith, be it religious faith or just faith in another person. However, from the authors’ experience, this wholesale faith is able to be developed in persons with intellectual disabilities. It is unwavering and is an example to those who know individuals with such faith.

Then, Jesus celebrates those with the humility of a child. What is childlike humility? It is the basis of the relationship between a parent and a child. The parent is in charge, the child does what he is told to do. The child submits to the parent in all areas of life. This characteristic, once again, is something that is desirable in a follower of Jesus. It may be due to the dependence of people with intellectual disabilities on their families or care providers. Perhaps they recognize their need for support and direction, or perhaps they have simply accepted the fact that they have been relegated to the social status they experience. Either way, they model the humility that Jesus wants people to evidence in a faith relationship with him. Undoubtedly, the fierce independence and individualism of people with typical intelligence, are an impediment to the development of humility leading to faith, which God desires in his followers.

Thirdly, we are to welcome the little child. People with intellectual disabilities can be excellent at welcoming. As indicated in the story above, they may not even see a person’s disability, which is very childlike in the most positive of ways. Young children, in particular, are pure in the manner in which they do not reflect the social constructions of a society that will be taught to them intentionally or otherwise as they grow. These constructions cause people to be characterized in particular ways, specifically as acceptable or unacceptable. Because of a lack of understanding of social nuance, or their not being a part of the “in crowd” they may not be taught the concept of “other” and its impact on relationships. They most likely have experienced being treated as other, but even this notion is misunderstood as people just being unkind for no particular reason. People who treat me poorly because I am a person experiencing a disability, are not seen by me as reacting to my personal characteristics, but rather as just not very nice people.

From the perspective of the welcomer of a little child, some of the same issues that revolve around welcoming children relate to welcoming individuals with disabilities. We are not excused from welcoming should a person have social skill deficits, or not understand particular ideas, or need direction, or need support, or make demands on someone’s time and so forth. Rather, as with meeting the needs described in Matthew 25 “whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). Welcoming someone with childlike characteristics is welcoming Jesus.

More to go on this but that is where it currently stands.

CBU online MA in Disability Studies to launch in January 2010

The following is the announcement put out by California Baptist University.
You can also contact me via email should you have any questions. Not to late to join the very first cohort, but must act quickly.

ANNOUNCING CBU's Master of Arts in Disability Studies Online Program

Great news! The Master of Arts in Disability Studies Program at CBU is ready to begin online January 2010. If you would like to start the New Year by enrolling in this exciting program, it's not too late! Get your paperwork in by the first week of January. Classes begin the second week of January.

For information please contact:

Debbie Passalacqua
Assistant Director
CBU Graduate Admissions
8432 Magnolia Ave • Riverside • CA 92504
Phone: 951.343.4527 Toll Free: 877.228.8877

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The death of evil

I was listening to Dennis Prager on the radio the other day. He is always very insightful. He made a comment something to the effect that society typically only recognizes evil when it is done...only recognizes evil when it is dead evil not when it is live evil. For example when we look back on things like slavery in America, or racial prejudice we see it for the evil that it is and was. Yet at the time it is as if many were blinded to the evil, perhaps denying that it even existed. Once again thinking about racial predjudice, one cannot imagine that dominant groups were unaware. Yet they may have been. I often have to caution my students when looking at issues of disability, that we look through 2009 eyes at problems that were not understood as problems in the 1960's. Or, if they were understood, it was only by a few. That doesn't mean that the problems were not problems or were not evil. But simply that we have had the benefit of years of societal evolution and analysis relative the events of the past such that they appear crystal clear to us.

I have the feeling that the church is beginning to wake up to the evil of exclusion of persons with disabilities. This is a very promising change, as if what Prager says is true, then perhaps we are beginning to see the death of that evil. I feel, sometimes, as if I am looking at the 1960s through 2009 eyes. I have stated elsewhere in this blog that I don't know why God has allowed me to see the injustice when so many are not even aware of it. I see the shock in my student's eyes when I ask them about their church experience, when they report on interviews with their pastors and when they are exposed to the information provided in class. It is literally as if dark glasses were taken off of their eyes. "I had no idea" is a common refrain. The good news is that they now have the equivalent of 2009 eyes looking at 1960 and Lord willing, this will cause them to make an impact for social justice in their own church settings.

If the Lord allows, I hope to be in a room someday, where, after years of inclusive attitudes by the church toward persons with disabilities, someone will say, "Remember then they used to exclude these people? I can't believe that people would have actually done that. What were they thinking?" I have had that experience relative to young people and issues of race. I hope to have the same experience relative to issues of disability, particularly in a church setting.


Monday, December 07, 2009

The 40 year old virgin

Not too long ago, there was a movie out called The 40 year old virgin. I didn't see it, but I am confident I know the premise. How can a person be 40 years old and still be a virgin? For a Christian, the answer is easy although living up to the requirements is not as easy. For a Christian, a 40 year old virgin is someone who is not married and is doing their best to be obedient to God's commands. Society treats such persons as fools. I would honor such a person as a saint! You see if you are not married and you are not a 40 year old virgin, you are either living under God's forgiveness for your failings, or you are needing God's forgiveness for your failings. In the overwhelming majority of areas of my life, I am the former. I am living under God's forgiveness for my failings. But I want to take this discussion in a different direction. That is, if you are a person who is doing what is right, what you should be doing, you will not always be celebrated by society, you may actually be ridiculed, called a fool, or disdained. As a Christian, one of the best things you can do is learn to pay no attention to those in the world who would criticize you for doing the right thing, like being a 40 year old virgin if you are unmarried.

I have visited many special education classrooms for students with severe disabilities. Some teachers stand out from others as really getting it. In one of those settings, I supervised a teacher who was excellent at data collection on educational programs for her students. That is important because students who often make slow progress need teachers who are accountable to ensure that they are making progress. So this teacher who was one of the best in this area that I have seen, has become embarrassed about the fact she takes data. Why? Because those around her tease her about her efforts to be accountable. As a result, she at times does not share the hard work, good work, that she has been doing.

In my classes for teachers who teach students with severe disabilities, I often tell them that there will be great pressure on them to be mediocre. Believe it or not, it often comes from the districts and from other teachers. People are often threatened by excellence because it shows them it can be done, and may make those over them expect excellence of them as well. So what do they do? They tease and criticize those who are doing well in order to protect the marginal way they are doing things, are doing their work. Rather than seeing themselves as a part of a team, they see themselves not wanting to raise their standards.

Albert Pujols is arguably one of the best baseball players ever. But imagine if his teammates teased and criticized him about how many home runs, or RBIs or MVP trophies he received. Rather than criticize, they should celebrate him. He not only makes them look good as a part of their team, he raises the standard for them to aim at, and shows them what excellence can actually look like.

That is what good teachers need to do. I talk to those in the administration above my teachers, and I know the kinds of things THEY say about excellent teachers. They are extremely grateful to have teachers who are doing it right, whose standard is not the positive regard of their peers who do not reflect the best practices. So if you are doing your best to serve your students, to serve God through your work, ignore your detractors who fear that you make them look bad.