On Thursday I volunteered to accompany a group of people with intellectual disabilities to a Halloween dance in another town.
I’m not 100% sure whether this dance was marketed only to people with intellectual and/or physical disabilities and their support workers or whether the dance was open to the community at large. There didn’t appear to be any people from the community at large at this dance, and I know from volunteering at these sorts of dances in the past that the people who come do tend to be almost exclusively people with disabilities that are supported by agencies, and volunteers and/or staff who agree to attend as support. In other words, they’re segregated dances, and it’s left me with a somewhat bad taste in my mouth for quite some time (much in the same way that the Special Olympics does).
Some of the people that attend these dances are terrific dancers. More importantly, a lot of them simply love to dance. Why aren’t we encouraging people with disabilities to attend community dances, and providing needed support for that to happen if necessary?
On the Other Hand…
I have an idea of the “whys” and “wherefores” for these questions. Sometimes staffing pressures don’t allow that kind of support, and it’s not always easy to get volunteers. And I know that for some of the people I’ve supported, I’d have concerns about them going unsupported to a community dance where alcohol was being served (although it’s certainly their option to do so). I worry enough about their safety as it is, given the research I’ve done into the higher rates of assault for people with disabilities – less than I would than if we were living in a big city, but I think it’s naïve for anyone to assume that violence can’t find them in a small town. Even with my cane, a loud voice, and a more than reasonable amount of force behind me (and no compunction about using all three to defend myself if I had to), I won’t go walking in my town past a certain point at night alone, and definitely not in certain areas.
I see why people like the segregated dances. They’re inter-community social events. They’re a chance for people to meet up with friends supported by other agencies. Sometimes, people from my community have found people that they knew from when they were institutionalized as children, teens, or young adults. It’s interesting to see people form new friendships and rekindle old ones.
Why Not Just Dance Together?
I think that the way I’d ideally de-segregate these dances is that I’d try to bring more of the community into the dances as they’re currently conducted. Because, seriously, I had a blast on Thursday night, and I think it was because it was the least judgemental place to dance that I’d ever been. I wasn’t a very good dancer before my stroke, and I pretty much just flail now – but nobody cared. The woman with Down’s Syndrome who grabbed me for I-can’t-even-remember-what-song and tried to teach me to ballroom dance didn’t appear to care that the stubborn fingers on my left hand wouldn’t interlace with hers – she just grabbed my wrist, showed me where to put my other hand, and we laughed and laughed as she tried to get me to spin around the floor. No one cared if you liked to dance in a large group, a small group, or by yourself, or if you wanted to dance a slow dance with your opposite-sex partner or your best same-sex friend or just twirling on the floor by yourself. People danced in their wheelchairs, people sang loudly without letting a little thing like not knowing the words get in the way, and no one seemed to think a thing of it.
It was inspiring. There was a place for everybody.
It was humbling. I thought, “This is the way it’s supposed to be – and we ‘smart’ people are supposed to get it, but we don’t. It’s the people that we look down on that truly get it.”
Sometimes…I wonder how “smart” all of us “normal” people really are.