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Worthiness

  • Posted on January 18, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Worthiness is a concept that haunts much of human existence.  In a world of finite resources, we cannot seem to grasp the infinite worth of our fellow human beings.  Being creatures of such a world, even our religions reflect our desire to designate worthy and unworthy human beings.  Science does no better in this regard.  Politics often does worse.

People define worthy attributes in myriad ways.  For some, the predominant consideration is genealogy.  Genealogical worthiness permeates much of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, and it has hardened the hearts of many Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  There are those who are worthy and there are those who are Gentiles; there are those who are worthy and there are those who are infidels.  (Christians use both terms to describe those who are unworthy, plus they have the legacy of Election—which I do not claim to understand.)

Genealogical worthiness is also present in science, though perhaps it could be better called gene-o-logical, since scientists tend to be less concerned with the specific ancestors from whom you’ve sprung and more concerned with the actual genes you’ve inherited.

Genealogical worthiness also permeates politics.  Both Nationalism (which can have some positive aspects to it) and genocide (which is 100% negative) are products of political ideas of genealogical worthiness.  But there are others.  Eugenics was a strange hybrid of politics and science, and its effects linger in contemporary politics despite the many efforts to destroy this debunked theory.

But genealogical worthiness is far from the only consideration.  After all, nobody chooses their genealogy and many of us are willing to give at least a little consideration to choice.  Those who choose to pursue higher education are often considered “more worthy” than those who don’t—considerations of equal opportunity are often negated in these arguments.  Those who choose to purchase responsibly are often considered “more worthy” than those who don’t—what makes a worthy purchase depends, of course, on the prevailing perspective, from the responsible use of credit to green living and many considerations in between.

And, of course, worthiness is also a matter of ability.  Those who are able are obviously more worthy than those who aren’t—and for many this belief is so obvious, so strongly assumed, that the assumptions it is based on are never even questioned.

The worthiness of people with autism is degraded on all three counts.  Genealogically or gene-o-logically, autistics are inferior.  There’s something wrong with the genes and that makes them at least susceptible to autism.  Shame on them.  They’re not worthy.  But, of course, being autistic—at least, acting autistic is a choice.  Passing—the contemporary equivalent to being cured—is a choice.  It’s a choice to do the work to be able to pass and it’s a choice to do the work to actually pass.  Those who fail to pass have made the wrong choices—opportunity, or lack thereof, to learn effective passing strategies is irrelevant, because if they really wanted to learn, then they would have.  Choosing not to pass makes them unworthy.  Shame on them.  Finally, ability makes them unworthy.  They are not as able as neurologically typical people, and they should be.  They should be able to mingle successfully in a crowded room full of noisy party-goers.  They should be able to sit quietly in a classroom and absorb the teacher’s lectures like a sponge.  They should be able to hold down a job without accommodations—who do they think they are to ask, they’re not even worthy to have a job considering how many able people are out of work.  Shame on them.  Strike one, strike two, strike three, autism is out.

The above paragraph is, of course, an illustrative example.  I believe it happens; I believe people think like that.  But I am not one of them.

Human worth cannot truly and accurately be measured by our genealogy (or gene-o-logy).  Human worth cannot truly and accurately be measured by our choices, at least not without considering our genuine opportunities and our unique circumstances.  (And it shouldn’t be about how much we choose to accomplish in order to “prove” our worth, but whether we choose to hurt others for personal pleasure and gain.)  Human worth most certainly cannot be measured by our abilities.

Hello, I am the mother of three children with autism.  I am worthy to live, to reproduce, and to raise my children.  All four of my children are worthy of living, dreaming, loving, and having opportunities for personal growth and betterment.  Whether you are autistic or not, you are worthy.  Whether you are college educated or not, you are worthy.  Whether you are rich and powerful or not, you are worthy.  Whether you are able to live a normal and independent life or not, you are worthy.

You are of infinite worth beyond human imagination just for being you.  And so is everyone else.

Blogging Against Disablism: On Assuming Impairment

  • Posted on May 1, 2010 at 10:19 PM

Executive Summary:  Disablism happens because the majority of people (US-specific) believe physical, mental or psychological differences make a person disabled.  Yet the majority has technologies and accommodations that make them able.  The reason why the “disabled” sub-population lacks appropriate technologies and accommodations is because their needs differ from those of the majority.  It is this lack of appropriate technologies and accommodations that truly disable or impair these individuals.  As a society we can allocate our resources in order enable everyone.  Will we choose to do so?

Disablism refers to the societal tendency to single out, exclude or mistreat people with physical, mental or psychological impairments because of those impairments.  But even here, in this simple definition, disablism intrudes.  The physical, mental or psychological differences are assumed to impair (meaning to lessen the quality, strength, or effectiveness of) the person with said differences.

I wish to challenge that assumption.  In the US this assumption is the foundation of the paradigm (meaning the worldview formed on the basis of beliefs, teachings, and experiences that shapes the perceptions of an individual when processing new teachings and experiences) held by the majority.  Within this paradigm it is the disability or impairment—the mental, physical or psychological difference—that impairs or lessens a person’s ability to participate in society.

Obviously!  That which is obvious is not necessarily true.

We are all more able, more empowered, and more effective with the use of technologies and accommodations that help us go about our daily tasks.  For example, we are all impaired when it comes to talking over long distances—so we use telephones, cell phones, Web cams, chat rooms, and e-mail to communicate over these distances.  People who do not have these communication technologies are accommodated through public phones and library computers.  We are all impaired when it comes to traveling over a long distance in a timely manner—so we use cars, trucks, and bicycles to span these distances.  People who do not have these transportation technologies are accommodated with buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation.  We are all impaired when it comes to learning—so we use textbooks, schools, black boards, Web sites, Power Point presentations, and other technologies to condense and teach the things we all need to learn.  People who cannot afford access to these education technologies attend public schools, visit public libraries, and get grants and loans from the federal government to attend technical colleges and universities.

Because “we all” have these impairments, the technologies and accommodations we need to improve our effectiveness are readily available.  Individuals with disabilities, as a whole, make up a significant sub-section of our population.  However, the specific technologies and accommodations that can compensate for their individual differences are not readily available, because the technologies and accommodations that would satisfy their needs are often unique to them.  At the very least, they’re not particularly useful to the majority.

That is the difference.  The impairments “we all” have our alleviated with technologies and accommodations; the impairments “they” have are not, because the technologies and accommodations “they” need are of no use to “us.”

Thus, the pervasive American paradigm is based on the “we all” standard.  If “we all” need something, then it is normal and “we all” obtain access to the technologies and accommodations we need; even if it means burying our country under a huge burden of debt.  If “some” need something to help them do what most do “naturally,” then those who with special needs are impaired or disabled and satisfying their needs is a burden “we all” won’t accept or tolerate.

Is this the land of the free—where so many are impaired and boxed in by the barriers we create as a society?  It’s time to shift our paradigm (paradigm shift: the internalization of a new belief, teaching or experience that dramatically changes the worldview of an individual).  The individual is not impaired because of their physical, mental or psychological difference; the individual is impaired because he or she lacks the accommodations or technologies that would enable him or her to participate effectively.  A lack we the people created out of our own ignorance and small-mindedness.

The truth is this: With the technologies and accommodations that are right for them, individuals with physical, mental or psychological differences can participate in and contribute to our society.  They can live not as “disabled” or “impaired” individuals, but as able, powerful, effective people—people whose differences no longer exclude them from the world of the majority.  “We all” would be richer for it, from an economic, cultural and an individual perspective.

Yet our society is engineered with the majority in mind—the technologies and accommodations we as a people devote most of our energies to are those that the majority requires and the majority demands.  Those who engineer our society impair those who need different technologies and different accommodations, often doing so unconsciously and unintentionally.  It never occurred to the majority that it should be any other way.

Is that really what we want?  Is that the people we want to be?  I know I don’t.  Do you?

Blogging Against Disablism

  • Posted on April 30, 2010 at 2:17 AM

On Saturday, May 1st, I will be blogging in support of Blogging Against Disablism Day.  Please be sure to check back!