Tropic Thunder, a movies showing in Kenora Ontario August 22 2008 has caused controversy in the disability advocacy community in Canada and US over concerns of its portrayal of persons with intellectual disabilities. Groups objected to the repeated use of the word “retard” because of its negative connotations. Some advocates are urging people not to see the film, claiming it is demeaning to individuals with mental disabilities. For extensive coverage see http://www.patriciaebauer.com/.
The question has been asked why is this Association offended by the Governments employees referring to those served by the Kenora Association for Community Living as “Beds” or “spaces”.
KACL believes the use of such terms as “Beds” and “Spaces” and “Vacancies” reinforce dangerous stereotypes that those we serve are not “people” who have personhood and whose dreams, desires, and aspirations, must be given priority in terms of the supports they required and in terms of where and with whom they live. The aspirations of all persons with developmental disabilities to self-determination must be recognized.
We are concerned that the use of such terms and failure to respect the principle of personhood and to recognize and respect the uniqueness of our most vulnerable citizens and the ties to family, friends and community. The ties that such persons have with family, friends and community must be respected. Because of such ties we recognize the importance of local support networks and in particularly, natural support networks. Because of such ties, we are willing to adopt a shared responsibility for others.
We are concerned that referring to such persons by labels such as beds or spaces reinforces views of consumers as objects - that can be moved around the north by cartage - rather than subjects who have emotional attachments to family, friends and acquaintances, who should not be moved from their local communities except under most exceptional circumstances.
Respecting personhood and citizenship requires recognition that non-institutionalized systems of supports require different kinds of supports, specifically:
Staff are to be constantly looking for new non-handicapped Life sharers and to run groups from which new life sharers can be discovered, and new friendships and natural support networks created
Staff support to build up non-existing natural support networks a requirement for life sharing to survive (Factors such as family availability, community attitudes, family attitudes (e.g. degree of protectionism), personality and values of consumer are more relevant than deficiencies in consumers in determining the amount of support consumers require.
Establishment of community groups such as Fitness Friends, Art Partners, and Music Makers which provide “Two sides of the same coin” respite. To the extent that an individual is active and engaged in the community, families (including non-handicapped) don’t require respite. To the extent that Life sharers have natural support networks, respite is available – whether paid or otherwise.
More skilled staff to train the non-handicapped Life sharers, families and friends how to access the community.
Consumers, served by KACL are people first and deserve respect. They should not be referred to as “retards”, “beds” or “spaces”.