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March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

The title says it all. March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. What

developmental disability awareness month

Autism is a developmental disability

should that mean for us?

What is a Developmental Disability?

The definition of developmental disability changes slightly from state to state (and province to province, in Canada), but the definition used by the Developmental Disabilities Act of the United States is as follows:

“The term ‘developmental disability’ means a severe, chronic disability of an individual 5 years of age or older that:

1. Is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments;
2. Is manifested before the individual attains age 22;
3. Is likely to continue indefinitely;
5. Results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity;
(i) Self-care;
(ii) Receptive and expressive language;
(iii) Learning;
(iv) Mobility;
(v) Self-direction;
(vi) Capacity for independent living; and
(vii) Economic self-sufficiency.

5. Reflects the individual’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, supports, or other assistance that is of lifelong or extended duration and is individually planned and coordinated, except that such term, when applied to infants and young children means individuals from birth to age 5, inclusive, who have substantial developmental delay or specific congenital or acquired conditions with a high probability of resulting in developmental disabilities if services are not provided.”

(From http://www.md-council.org/resources/dd_definition.html)

Here are some examples of developmental disabilities:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Hearing loss
  • Down syndrome
  • Spinal injury
  • Brain injury

Developmental Disability Fun Fact, in Honour of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Having a developmental disability doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has an intellectual disability.

I’m surprised by how many people who work in my field don’t know this. Many of the people with conditions on the list above are very intelligent. There’s even a debate within some agencies that support people with autism whether they should be supporting individuals who have it without supporting documentation that these individuals have intellectual disabilities as well.

What Will Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month Mean for You?

I think that, for me, Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month will me doing pretty much what I try to do already, with a focus on developmental disabilities – raising awareness of what they are, celebrating the achievements of people who have them, and continuing to bust stereotypes where I can of people with developmental disabilities. Because it would be really nice if society got to the point where we didn’t need a month for people with developmental disabilities, because they’re just…people. Don’t you agree?


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Senate Tables Blunt Amendment, 51 to 48

It’s been a significant week for setting legislation around the world, apparently. On the heels of Blunt AmendmentWelfare Benefit Reform being voted in on Wednesday in Britain, the Blunt Amendment was struck down in the United States Senate on Thursday.

What is the Blunt Amendment?

For my non-American readers who may not be following the saga involved with this particular amendment, named for sponsor by Senator Roy Blunt, it’s been at the top or near the top of American news for most of February. The Blunt Amendment was drafted to allow health insurance plans to be exempt from providing coverage for services that violate their religious beliefs. The example on which there has been the most focus is Catholic employer insurance plans providing coverage for contraception pills.

The Blunt Amendment was a response to an Obama administration ruling that all health plans provide free contraception.

Not Fair to Women

The Blunt Amendment wasn’t fair because all it took was a company or insurance agency to decide that a treatment was against their religion to decide not to treat it. But in the case of contraception pills and Catholic employers especially, deciding not to cover the pills on the religious basis that they’d be used for non-procreative sex is unfair. Sometimes contraceptive pills are used for medical reasons.

Why Care About The Blunt Amendment As a Disability Advocate?

I’ve known women with invisible disabilities whose doctors put them on a contraception pill to deal with medical issues. They may work for Catholic agencies and be directly affected by legislation like the Blunt Amendment. And I know that sometimes young women with severe disabilities are put a contraception pill to help them to regulate their menstrual period each month and make the experience easier for them to manage. If these young women are receiving their contraception pill through a parent’s insurance plan, a parent who works for a Catholic agency, and suddenly it becomes legal for the agency’s plan to no longer provide contraception pills, that young woman’s life is affected.

Plus, women with disabilities are still women! They need to be concerned about the erosion of their rights just as much as any other woman does.

It *Is* About Access

My friend Geoff and I have had a running argument about whether this is about access to birth control. He is as troubled by all this as I am, but in a different way. He, like Blunt, saw Obama’s ruling that all plans have to provide free contraception pills as an assault on religious liberty. Women can still get birth control, he says. No one is stopping them. They just have to pay for it. And at $2 a day, is that really a hardship?

My point is that, depending on how much your job pays, $2 a day *could* be a hardship. And when you don’t have the money to pay for something, that makes it a matter of access.

American Women Don’t Have to Worry…For Today

Obviously there’s more nuance to this debate than I can get into today. The important thing is that The Blunt Amendment was struck down in the Senate, 51 to 48. Three votes isn’t much of a margin, though. It leaves me with the same feeling that I had when I read that Welfare Benefit Reform had passed in Britain:

It doesn’t bode well for any of us.

More views on the Blunt Amendment:




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Welfare Benefit Reform and a Sad Day in Britain

I wanted to blog today, but I really wasn’t sure what I’d blog about – no topics were

welfare benefit reform

springing to mind. So I went to Twitter and went through my Twitter feed, to see what’s going on in the world of disabilities.  I was shocked, and saddened, to see that the Welfare Reform Bill in Britain that so many people have been fighting so hard to have the government reconsider, passed yesterday.

How Will Welfare Benefit Reform Affect People with Disabilities in Britain?

The new legislation introduces benefit caps, will cause many people with disabilities to lose their benefits, and will push people with disabilities and their families further into poverty across the UK.

The government claims that Welfare Benefit Reform will give people with disabilities more opportunities to become independent from the system, but groups across the UK have concerns:

Church leaders in Ireland: “Those with the least capacity to suffer cuts should not be made to suffer more:  http://www.u.tv/Articles/Article.aspx?guid=58b137e2-4f0f-4315-804e-c5712d168345

“Benefit reform could put ‘6000 children into poverty'” – Wales: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-17182494

For a graphic description of what disability advocate Sue Marsh’s life will be like now that Welfare Benefit Reform has gone through, see her blog entry, “A Post About Pooh”:


Why Do I Care About Welfare Benefit Reform?

I care because while I agree that these systems aren’t designed to get people off of them, I don’t believe that the solution is cuts that force people with genuine disabilities out into a difficult job market, especially at the expense of children’s welfare.

I care because, as I’ve said before, I see the same attitude toward people with disabilities in America (and I’m seeing it in Canada too) as I do in Britain: drains on taxpayer money (when they’re not receiving income support due to outright fraud). I believe that Welfare Benefit Reform is an unreasonable response to fraud rates that are actually quite low, despite how much we hear about them. They’re low in America and Canada, too. And I’m scared that America and Canada are heading the same way that Britain is, in terms of welfare benefit reform.

I’m care because so much of what I hear about what will work, in terms of caring for people with disabilities, from people who haven’t actually had to do it, just won’t work. I remember a discussion with someone who said that we didn’t need income support for people with disabilities, because communities and churches would just take care of people who can’t care for themselves, if we’d just give them a chance.  I know that this doesn’t work. But some people won’t hear that.

I care because I have friends in Britain with disabilities, and I’m really scared for them.

I can’t imagine how they’re feeling today.


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Disability and Religion, Pt 2: “Through a Different Lens: Autism and the Divine”

autismAutism and God

Following up on yesterday’s post, I’d like to write about a recent broadcast of “Tapestry” on CBC Radio. I’ve long enjoyed enjoyed host Mary Hynes’ exploration of all things spiritual, and was delighted to hear her devote an entire program to talking with people with autism and the people who work with them about the autistic experience of God…which appears to be as varied as the experience of God in people without autism. The link to the podcast is here:


It’s nearly an hour long, but worth the listen.

For those that haven’t got the time to listen to the podcast but would like a summary, read on…

Finding the Spiritual in the Everyday

The first interview is with Temple Grandin, a woman with autism who is known all over the world for the work she has done to develop more humane methods of slaughtering animals such as cows and pigs. She talks about how, in keeping with past descriptions of how she sees the world in pictures, she tends to see God as pictures of galaxies that came back from the Hubbel telescope. She also talks about how her work in slaughter houses has actually been a spiritual experience for her. This sounds strange, until she explains how her work has prompted her to think about mortality and what she believes our priorities should be for life on earth. It prompted thinking about how we should treat both each other and the animals with which we share the earth. She spoke a few times about the importance of doing something in life that makes a difference. I wanted to hear more about how a life of thinking in pictures and presumably having trouble understanding parts of social life got her to a place where it sounded like she could speak from a…logic-based place of empathy about the animals with whom she she works, but a place of empathy all the same, that seemed to form the basis for some of her spiritual beliefs…but it was time for the next interview.

Moving In the Opposite Direction

The next interview is with Anthony Easton. Anthony has his Master’s in Theology, is religious but not spiritual. Diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum at age 14, his idea of God is a universe full of patterns that we can’t adequately describe with language. He likes theology because it’s an attempt to describe the patterns, and it also appeals to what he identifies as the part of his autistic mind that likes the taxonomies and ordering rules that he uses to make sense of the world. “There are no more an autistic document than the Creeds,” he says, referring to the Nicene and Apostles Creed, which state what Anglicans believe. For Easton, theology gives him the order that he needs to find his way to God. I think that this is a fascinating idea. Many of us reject theology and dogma as too confining, favouring a more free-flow approach to spirituality in which it’s easier to feel “connected”. Easton needs the patterns to feel the connection, to the point where he becomes upset if the service liturgy isn’t performed properly.

What Would He Choose?

Reverend John Gillibrand is also an Anglican minister. His son Adam is 18, and has a form of autism that makes him very low-functioning. Gillibrand feels the same stresses that all parents of children with severely disabilities do, but wants very much for Adam to be accepted in church and community life as he is. He speaks about questions about how to integrate people with disabilities into settings where their behaviours may be disruptive, and about how he determined what sort of decisions Adam wanted to make about his religious life. I like how he says that Adam “constantly lives at the boundaries of his own understanding” in his life and how, rather than try to squash that sense of exploration and learning, he tries to learn from his son by adopting it in his own spiritual journey…it’s just a different way of looking at things…

“I Just Work Differently”

Finally, Jennifer Pittaway does a piece on a group for young men with autism who are approaching the age of bar mitzvah at Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Synagogue. The boys have done a lot of thinking about what bar mitzvah means for them as young men with autism, and the synagogue is obviously working closely with both the boys and their families to make the event as meaningful as possible – even if it means making some small changes to the event. I’m particularly struck with how much thought Eli has put into what the bar mitzvah means for him as a Jew – and how much he dislikes the “autism” label. He says, “I just work differently,” which is exactly how I explained my physical disability to the teens with whom I used to work as I tried to to assist them to understand their own disabilities.

Writing this post, I’m reminded of how diverse we are. I know that it’s difficult for social institutions to welcome diverse views of the thing around which they’re centred…but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could, as a group, just accept that everyone has a different conception of God? Then we wouldn’t have to say, “As someone with autism/Down’s Syndrome/name a developmental disorder, what’s your experience of God?”…we could just say, “As a person from whom I’d like to hear the answer…what’s your experience of God?”

Is there anything really stopping us from doing that already?

Sermon over. Amen. 🙂

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Disability and Religion, Part One

Celebrating Disability and Religiondisability and religion

When I was in high school, and a devout Christian, I was a counselor at a Christian camp one summer. One night, after evening prayers with the campers in their cabins, one of the other counselors came to staff area, terrible excited: a little boy with Down’s Syndrome in his cabin had prayed the Salvation Prayer and invited Jesus into his heart. It wasn’t my first experience with disability and religion. A couple of adults with intellectual disabilities went to my church. But it was the first time in my evangelical Christian life that I’d ever really thought about people with intellectual disabilities consciously deciding to become Christians.

We all thought that this boy praying the Salvation Prayer was miraculous. Somehow the message we’d been trying to get across all week through daily worship services and in-cabin devotions had reached this boy with a disability and now he was definitely going to go to Heaven. It was something to celebrate!

I got a little more cynical about the experience as I grew up. Like many things about Christianity, I wasn’t sure what to think about disability and religion, and especially about that experience at camp.

Becoming Cynical About Disability and Religion

It had been quite late in the camp session when that boy prayed the Salvation Prayer. Many kids around him had done so during the session and gotten a lot of positive attention attention for it. It was very easy to tell that it was an easy way to please the counselors and staff. And, because of his disability, the young boy got even more positive attention from everybody than the other kids did. I wondered, in the cynicism and anger that threatened to overwhelm me when I first left Christianity, if we’d asked him to do it again that session, how easy it would have been to get him to do it again.

And I was angry. I felt like we’d taken advantage of a kid who hadn’t fully understood what kind of commitment he was making. If that was the standard relationship between disability and religion, I wanted nothing to do with it.

I’m a lot more mellow now about disability and religion. I ask questions that, because of where I was, I don’t think I could have asked. Now I not only can ask them, but I want to. And now I ask myself about that summer experience: Could that boy have understood enough to make what we’d consider an informed decision about becoming saved?

Or, more importantly: Did he understand at least as well as the other kids?

I think he was eight. That age sticks in my mind, at least. I was seven when I first prayed the Salvation Prayer. I only did it because my friend in Sunday School was doing it, and I was totally confused when it was over. I asked the Sunday School teacher, “Will Jesus be in my heart by bedtime?”

She laughed and said, “He’s in there already, dear!”

“Oh,” I said. I remember being totally unsure as to whether I should be excited or not. I really didn’t understand what I’d just agreed to.

Maybe none of the kids who prayed the Salvation Prayer understood that summer. Maybe they did – maybe, at age seven, I was the odd man out because I didn’t get it.

I just assumed that the kid with Down’s Syndrome didn’t get it. I let that become part of some major bitterness toward Christianity that stayed with me a long time. Even if he didn’t get it, I’ve definitely seen evidence that kids with intellectual disabilities, just like the rest of us, have a sense of God that evolves with age.

Talking About Disability and Religion

A few teenagers with intellectual disabilities that I worked with really surprised me with how much they’d thought about religion and spirituality. One of them wanted to talk about the DaVinci Code movie with me, and about how he thought that his parents didn’t want him to watch it because they were scared that he wouldn’t want to be a Christian anymore.

“Are *you* scared that’s going to happen?” I asked him.

He wasn’t. But he wanted to know more about different religions. He was curious about them.

Another young woman wasn’t sure that she wanted to go to the church her parents went to when she moved away from home, and wasn’t sure how to talk to her parents about it. We talked about some things some ways that she could have that conversation with her parents, and how she could explore other churches if she wanted to. I was surprised by the amount of thought that she’d obviously put into why she wanted to take these steps in her life and how important it was to her, spiritually, that she make her parents understand why she was feeling this way.

And I’ve always known some adults with intellectual disabilities for whom participation in a church and church life is very important – and others for whom it just isn’t. Just like people without disabilities. As someone who is still very fascinated with why religion and/or spirituality comes to play the role it does in peoples’ lives…I just think it’s interesting.

When these conversations come up, it’s like a smack in the head: Don’t make assumptions, particularly about disability and religion. Figuring out what I believed and why took me about six years after I graduated from high school, and nearly knocked me off the rails a couple of times. It was an integral part of my struggle to figure out who I am. Why wouldn’t there be people with intellectual disabilities that go through the same thing?

More About Disability and Religion…

I’ve never talked with anyone with autism about God and disability and religion but I recently heard a radio program called “Tapestry” about how some people with autism view God that was really fascinating. It was what got me thinking about all of this. I’ll talk about it more tomorrow.

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My AVM Story: Walking Toward Light

On Tuesday night, my friend Harry’s wife, Heather, died very suddenly. All of us who knew her and Harry were shocked by her death.

I haven’t seen Harry for quite some time, and I didn’t know Heather that well. I mainly kept in touch with them through Facebook. I heard reports from mutual friends that saw them over the last couple of years that they were very, very much in love. They got married in July 2011, and both sounded very happy with married life.

It’s difficult to write about their relationship in the past tense.

The final ruling on why Heather died isn’t in yet, but her doctors believe it’s because a blood clot formed when she broke her foot several weeks ago, and traveled to her lungs.

It’s so difficult to wrap my head around the fact that Harry and Heather got up on Tuesday, went to their teaching jobs, came home to dinner together, and got ready to go to school the next day, never suspecting that they were doing those things together for the last time. And yet, when I had my first stroke, I wondered myself if I had gone through my day for the “last time” myself.

A lot of us that know Harry and that knew Heather talked online on Wednesday, and there were a lot of “I love yous” going around. It’s amazing how much something like this reminds you that life can change in an instant, and that you should never pass up a chance to let people know that you care about them.

The Worst Headache of My Life

When my first stroke came on, I thought I had meningitis. My head felt like it was going to burst open. My neck and shoulders quickly become stiff and painful. I got through the job interview I was in at the time, and I got myself to the doctor – but I didn’t trust him when he said that this was likely just a flu. It didn’t feel like any flu that I’d ever had, and I’d been around my friends’ small children that week. I needed to know if it was meningitis. So I called an ambulance.

I was a little panicked. I knew that people died from meningitis. The ambulance driver calmed me down enough to get me through the ride to the hospital, intake procedures, and the lumbar puncture. By that time my landlady had showed up to sit with me for a while. But she was gone when they came back and said that there was blood in my spinal fluid and that I needed a CT scan.

I knew that blood in one’s spinal fluid wasn’t good. It started to occur to me while I was waiting for results from the CT scan that I really did have a chance of dying in that hospital in British Columbia, when my family was half a continent away in Ontario. My best friend in the area was back in Ontario visiting family. My landlady had called my other close friend in the area, and she was in labour.

“Where’s your family?” the doctor asked.

“In Ontario,” I said. “Should someone fly out?”

He paused a moment. “If they can manage it…they probably should,” he said.

Oh wow, it’s that bad, I thought.

It was. I was bleeding into my head. It was all beginning. It was a while before I was really, truly sure that I wasn’t going to die.

“Hi, Dad? I’m having a stroke…”

I’m kidding. I don’t remember what I said to my father when the doctor handed the phone to me. I think I tried to reassure him that, except for a terrible headache, I was doing okay, because he was pretty upset…I’m not sure what the doctor told him.

And I didn’t learn anything more that night except that I was going to another hospital the next day, where they’d be able to run more tests and get a clearer picture of what was going on.

Walking Steadily Toward Light

I was light-years away from where I thought I’d be when I’d gotten up that morning to go to my part-time job at the Parksville Pharmasave. It was the beginning of a journey that took me…light-years from where I’d be in my life right now.

Just because my life turned out differently than I thought it would doesn’t necessarily mean that it turned out worse than I thought it would.  There’s light along this road, and light at the end of it. But it also doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some dark times in the last twelve years.

For Harry…and For Heather

Harry, I know it looks dark now. I wish with all my might that you didn’t have to go through this. But the quickest way through the dark – is to just walk right through it. You’ve got lots of people who care and who want to help.

Rest in peace, Heather.

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The Trick of One-Handed Living

I’ve mentioned previously that I have very little function in my left hand.  I also one-handedlive alone. When you live alone, and you have to live one-handed, you have to get creative. If you’re curious, try doing your morning routine one-handed:

  • Shower, teeth-brushing, styling your hair (I don’t shave my face, of course, so the guys will have to tell me how that goes.)
  • Dressing (including putting on your bra, ladies.).
  • Making breakfast. Try something simple, but throw in a little trick like cutting up a banana for your cereal or spreading some peanut butter on your toast.
  • Putting on shoes with laces. Try this even if you don’t intend to wear them.

Every Problem Has a Solution…Even One-Handed Living Problems

I don’t suggest that you do any of this as a “See how hard Sarah has it” exercise. I don’t have it that hard. The thing is, I’ve found ways to get around most of these challenges, to the point where I manage my life one-handed without even really thinking about it anymore. I have an adapted cutting board and a special knife to help with cutting up food. My sneakers have stretchy shoelaces in them that don’t require tying.  I figured out a way fairly early in physical rehabilitation to put my bra on one-handed so that I wouldn’t have to wear a sports bras all the time (email me if you want to know, ladies).

And for the stuff for which there isn’t a tool or an established trick – I figured something out. Because when you live alone, if you don’t find a way to do something, and you’re as stubborn about asking for help as I am, it doesn’t get done.  I’m not always successful on the first try, it’s not always graceful or pretty (I’m sure that getting the cat into the carrier last week to get her to the vet was…as painful-looking as it actually was). Yes, there are some things that I simply can’t manage one-handed- but you’d be surprised at what I’ve found ways to do.

I’m not special. You’d do the same thing.

Hope for My Hair

One thing that’s been very difficult for me to manage one-handed from the moment I had the stroke is my hair. I had long hair when I went into the hospital for surgery. I came out with shorter hair. It’s been very short sometimes, but I always end up missing my long hair too much, so I grow it out again – so it can sit limp on my shoulders, because you really need two hands to do just about anything with long hair. I’ve figured out how to put it up in a clip when it’s long enough, but I miss being able to put it in even a simple ponytail.

Which is why I was thrilled to find this video yesterday:

Talk about creativity and problem-solving! I might have just enough function in my left hand to manage it…looks like I may be practicing putting my hair in a ponytail in my spare time.

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Amelia Rivera Update

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has apologized to Amelia Rivera’s family for how discussionsamelia rivera about a potential kidney transplant for the 3-year-old were conducted.


Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Denies that Amelia Rivera Was Declared Ineligible for Transplant Based on Her Intellectual Disability

Amelia has Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by severe physical health issues and intellectual disability.  At a meeting with a surgeon and a social worker at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, parents Chrissy and Joe Rivera were told that Amelia would not be eligible for a life-prolonging kidney transplant because she is “mentally retarded”.

Chrissy blogged about the incident in a Wolf-Hirchhorn Syndrome internet support community, attracting media attention and sparking the creation of an online petition to get Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to reconsider its position.

The hospital has agreed to reevaluate its decision regarding Amelia’s eligibility for transplant, and continues to deny that it discriminates on the basis of intellectual disability.

For the full story and commentary on the Rivera case, please read: http://www.girlwiththecane.com/amelia-rivera/

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What Now, Rosie O’Donnell?

So, I’ve been keeping an eye on reaction to Rosie O’Donnell’s interview with Chelsea Handler overRosie O'Donnell the last couple of days.

Disappointing, to Say the Least. Rosie O’Donnell’s Taken a Beating Over This.

People have been saying some very nasty things about Rosie O’Donnell (and to her, if her Twitter feed is anything to go by). I was shocked by the venom of some of the comments that I heard had appeared on Matt Roloff’s (of The Learning Channel’s “Little People, Big World”) Facebook page, but when I investigated tonight it looked as if those comments had been removed. The remaining ones, calling Rosie O’Donnell things like “loudmouth” and “ignorant” and accusing her of planning the whole piece as a way to get the Roloffs on her show (in response to call from Matt Roloff for compassionately helping Rosie O’Donnell to move past her anxieties about little people) were difficult enough to read.

I don’t think that Rosie O’Donnell is blameless here. I think that she didn’t choose the most sensitive way to express what she was trying to say, and I understand why people are angry. But, as a person who is “different”, I have always said that I’d rather that people express the ways in which my disabilities make them anxious, if this is an issue, and ask me whatever questions that they need to in order to alleviate their anxiety. I’m not going to fault her for doing that, especially when it obviously does make her feel ashamed that she feels that way.

Rosie O’Donnell…Meet Me at Camera Three

I’ve been reading your Twitter feed and see how frustrated you’re getting at apologizing over and over and not being sure what else you can do. I think, if I was a little person, what I’d want to hear now is what you plan to do now that you’ve admitted to the world that you suffer from this anxiety.

I think that you can understand this. You only have to imagine a conversation between two people where one described how she’d grown up in a house where she was taught that same-sex attraction was something to be fears and that was lesbians made her anxious, even though it made her ashamed to feel that way; how she couldn’t understand how lesbians had sex; how she couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of two women being attracted to each other, couldn’t reconcile that with her conceptions of healthy relationships…and I’m sure you’d not only wholeheartedly suggest that if he or she really want to get over this anxiety, there are resources that he or she can access to have questions answered, and that she should try to find some lesbians in loving relationships with whom she can spend some time and get to know, so that she can see that they’re not that much different than everyone else: people with jobs and children and good times and bad times that contribute to their communities and live in loving relationships…just with other women.

And I’m sure that you’d know to suggest that if the anxiety has reached the stage where it’s very disruptive to her life, maybe professional help is warranted. Phobia treatments are very effective and actually work quite quickly when the individual is really committed to them.

Of course, you don’t owe anyone details about what you plan to do now, if anything. But you keep asking on your Twitter feed, “I’ve apologized…what more can I do?” Maybe sharing that you plan to do something will heal some wounds.

For the Rest of Us

Enough of the attacking rhetoric and the name-calling. You don’t create a more inclusive world by calling *anyone* names, no matter how intolerant you think they’re being. It really just brings you down to the level at which that you believe they are.

Don’t make me say it again.

Matt Roloff’s Facebook Page:  http://www.facebook.com/RealMattRoloff

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Supreme Court Ruling on Testimony from People with Intellectual Disabilities…It’s About Time!

A Supreme Court ruling in Canada is going to change the experience of people with intellectual disabilities in Canadian courts.

The ruling was made as the Supreme Court gave a woman with an intellectual disability a new trial after her testimony about an alleged sexual assault was dismissed.


Supreme Court Ruling Offers More Protection to People with Intellectual Disabilities

The Supreme Court ruling is extremely important.  Up until now, the Canada Evidence Act has put restrictions on how the testimony of people with intellectual disabilities can be used in court. Judges had the right to assess competence of a person with an intellectual disability and rule Supreme Court rulingwhether or not his or her testimony was admissible. This goes beyond the standard required for anyone else to testify: that they be able to communicate their story clearly, and that they promise to tell the truth.

I have never supported an individual to testify in court before, but I have supported individuals to make reports to the police. We talked beforehand about how it was important to be very honest, to tell the story exactly how they remembered it happening, and to answer the officer’s questions as best they could. I can tell you from working with many, many people with intellectual disabilities that they know the difference between “telling the truth” and “telling a lie”, and that, like most of us, most of them feel quite strongly that telling a lie is wrong.

So I found myself nodding when I read Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin explain that when an individual with an intellectual disability testifies, the promise to tell the truth should be enough. They should not have to demonstrate understanding of the moral obligation that the promise confers upon them (i.e., explain in concrete terms what taking an oath morally obligates them to do) – they just have to take the oath and be able to tell their story.

Of course, not all people with intellectual disabilities will be able to testify. Some will not understand that they have to tell the truth. Some may have a mental condition as well as an intellectual disability that doesn’t allow them to distinguish fantasy from reality. But the stereotype that all people with intellectual disabilities cannot understand the difference between a truth and a lie and therefore shouldn’t testify is no longer an issue. Now an individual is *competent* to testify under the law until proven otherwise, instead of *incompetent* until proven otherwise.

This makes all the difference in the world. It gives people like the woman  who got a new trial, who was trying to take her sexual abuser to court, a lot more protection under the law.

Legitimate Concerns About the Supreme Court Ruling?

Too much, the dissenting Justices said of the Supreme Court ruling, holding fast to the idea that if you can’t explain why it’s important to keep a promise to tell the truth, the power of that promise becomes so diluted that it really offers the accused no protection at all.

There were three dissenting judges out of the nine who voted. They were also concerned, according to one article that I read, that when asked questions about her daily life and routine, the woman who got a new trial answered “I don’t know.”

I don’t think that this is necessarily a sign that she’s not fit to testify, or doesn’t understand the gravity of testifying in court. That could be simple nerves, and it would have been unfortunate to have voted down this Supreme Court ruling because the person had nerves.

Support Measures for the Supreme Court Ruling

Now that the ruling has passed, provincial governments may want to consider some sort of support process in place somewhere in their social services infrastructure to assist people with disabilities who do have to testify to become more comfortable with the courtroom and its processes before the actual day:

  • Provide someone to be a sort of case-manager, to assist the person’s lawyer to get them prepared for court and to be a person to whom the person can have easy access in times of anxiety about testifying. This person could help with the points below.
  • Go with the person on a visit to the courtroom to view a portion of a trial. Familiarize the person with courtroom procedures. Watch a person testify.
  • Arrange to have the person talk to a person who has testified in court, to answer their questions.

It’s important that the legal and judicial system take all possible steps to successfully implement this new Supreme Court ruling. As Carol Goar said in her “Toronto Star” column, this sort of ruling should have come into place twenty years ago when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted. We owe it to the people with intellectual disabilities who weren’t protected before the Supreme Court ruling for all that time to make sure that people with intellectual disabilities are protected now.

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