Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Independence Day

July 4, 2007

Consider these facts:

  • About 2700 people with developmental disabilities live substandard lives in nine state-operated institutions in Illinois.
  • Illinois pays for another 6,000 people with developmental disabilities to endure in private institutions
  • There are 100,000 people in 1,200 long-term care facilities in the state.
  • The Department of Human Services, Department of Mental Health oversees 30 community hospitals with psychiatric units, as well as nine state operated hospitals.

For these people it is July 4th; Independence Day it is not. They are locked into prisons for the crime of having a disability. Independence is a far off dream for them, unless we who have a voice, however small, say it should change.

While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Eugene V. Debs

It’s dramatically cheaper to support people in their homes than it is to imprison them in institutions. They have more independence, hold on to skills longer, maintain relationships with family and community, they have more privacy and dignity when they are in their own home, apartment, or trailer.

Most people in nursing homes and institutions don’t need 24 hour care. They need supports to help them thorough their daily living activities. Tasks like monitoring their medication, bathing, cleaning, mobility and getting adequate nutrition. With the necessary supports people can live quite nicely on their own, or with a few roommates.

All these facts fly in the face of our practice of imprisoning people with disabilities.

Then Why is it Happening?

Paternalism plays a part. Social stereotyping is also a factor. Indifference to others is a feature of it too. But the largest, most deadly dynamic is, of course, money.

  • Labor Unions represent the people who work in state run institutions.
  • Nursing home lobbies are rich and generous to legislators.
  • Hospital administrators and associations sponsor lavish events to maintain the status quo.
  • Warehousing people with disabilities is big business with large profits.

What Do We Do?

We speak out. We act. We take to the streets. Writing legislators and/or letters to the editors has some merit, but is ineffective to create a change in our nation/state’s value systems. We must act.

The Campaign for Real Choice in Illinois works to change the way people with disabilities live and get the services they need. Their core belief is that people with disabilities should live where they want, with whom they want, for as long as they want, with whatever support is needed. Join their list serve and participate in their events.

ADAPT is a national direct action advocacy organization fighting so people with disabilities can live in the community with real supports instead of being locked away in nursing homes and other institutions. Locally there is a chapter in Illinois, Chicago ADAPT. Get involved.

We need larger numbers of people acting collectively. We must be the agitators that rub up against the status quo twisting, pushing, and challenging our way to independence for all.

There will be justice... only when the uninjured are as indignant as the injured. Thucydides, Greek historian

Indignation is long overdue.

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