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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NDRN Report: Devaluing People with Disabilities

This is Curt Decker, Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network speaking on the implications of the Ashley Treatment. Today the NDRN released a fascinating document: Devaluing People with Disabilities. When I first read the document I was not impressed. In fact I wanted to take the document and fling it across the room. I thought to myself, what a wasted opportunity. Then a funny thing happened. I realized my initial reaction was largely wrong. Sure I would have taken a different approach. I would certainly not have used some of the selected experts. I absolutely would not have used a focus group of people with a disability. But so what--how many people will react this way? Precious few. It was then I realized the larger aim was more important than my detailed critique. The report forwards a position few consider to be a civil rights issue: disability rights. In this sense the report is a grand success. I also like the multi media release. Yes, you can readily access a pdf of the report at but you can also access videos of Decker and a group of people with a disability responding to the Ashley Treatment.

What struck me after watching the above video and reading the report is the fundamental divide between those with and those without a disability. To me, disability rights is fundamentally a civil rights issue. This is as obvious to me as is the need to breath. Unfortunately the vast majority of people do not equate disability rights with civil rights. Disability for most people is a medial problem and the notion of disability rights as civil rights requires a theoretical leap they are unable or unwilling to accept. Such a leap in logic requires one to disregard all they have been explicitly taught and absorbed about disability. The inability or refusal to consider disability rights as akin to civil rights is an increasing danger to all people--not just those with a disability. As Decker provocatively begins the report, somewhere in America people are sitting down and considering withholding life sustaining medical treatment from a person who has a disability. And why do these conversations take place with stunning regularity? According to Decker they happen "because the persons being considered are viewed as having little value as they are. They are considered not as fully human, endowed with inalienable rights of liberty, privacy and the right to be left alone--solely because they were born with a disability".  These are not only harsh words but the harsh reality I have lived with for 34 years. I will have much more to say about the report once I thoroughly digest the ideas presented.