All opinions and views stated on this site belong solely to Corina Lynn Becker, and do not represent or reflects the views and opinions of any organizations, unless otherwise specified.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why "Retard" is a Hate Crime

It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while I get confronted with a very ugly word.


It's used a slang, as an insult.  People know that it's offensive, but they still use it.  They seem to think "oh, it's slang, it's just a word, it doesn't matter."  But you see, it does matter.   Just because there isn't a person with intellectual disabilities there, or apparent, doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Because connotations matter.  The thought behind the word, it matters.  

Let me show you how.

The noun "retard" comes from "mental retardation".  Despite some popular belief, it is actually still used as a diagnosis for people with a low IQ score and two or more adaptive behaviours.  According to the ICD-10 and the DSM-IV-TR, there are even varying degrees of it.  It is considered to be an intellectual disability, and in fact, most advocates prefer the term intellectual disability rather than "mental retardation". 

Why?  Because of how the term "retard" is used.  It is used not just towards people with intellectual disabilities, it is also used against any disabled person.  It gets flung at children in the schoolyard.  It gets tossed around as an insult by adults.  It has been used to mock, ridicule and insult, not only non-disabled individuals, but disabled people specifically by the simple act of using a diagnosis as slang. 

When you use the term "retard", you are specifically taking defining aspects of people, in this case disability, and mocking them.  It's kind of like taking a person's skin colour or sexual orientation and using that as an insult.  We don't use the words "nigger" or "faggot" anymore?  We know better, or at least, we should know better, because there is a history of discrimination against the groups that it refers.  In our supposedly more progressive society, it is no longer acceptable to use those words. 

The same is with "retard", but it seems like the same regard is not applied to disabled people.  It's discrimination.  It says that you can target disabled people, mock and insult them, and get away with it because you can. 

When you can hurt them in your head and with your words, what's to stop you from hurting them psychically?  Because believe me, you're already hurting people mentally and emotionally with your words, and it doesn't take much for those types of attitudes to shift from being merely words to physical violence. 

It already happens.

Right now.

Go on, look up "disabled victim", "disabled crime", "disabled violence", or "disabled murder".  It is said that disabled people have at least two to five, possibly up to ten times, the risk of violence than non-disabled (Sobsey 35).

Disabled people have been beaten, robbed, sexually and physically assaulted, and murdered because of how people think of them.  Because people think it's okay to use us as an insult, to mock us and degrade us, then it's okay to take things one step further and target us specifically for crimes, not just the individual, but the entire group. 

Do you know what it's called when an offence is motivated by a person's membership with a group? 

Hate crime

The question is, do you really mean it?  Do you really want to potentially endanger people with the carelessness of your words? 

Understand that ignorance as an excuse only goes so far, and intent does not mean that you are exempt from the consequences.  Once you know about the potential results, you got to ask yourself how you would feel if someone mocked you for being right- or left-handed.  Or being beaten because of your ethnic background?  Or murdered for speaking another language?  And then the people did that to you just walks away without facing any consequences, legal or otherwise?

Don't like it?

Yeah, neither do we.

Works Cited

Sobsey, Dick. Violence and Abuse in the Lives of People with Disabilities: the End of Silent Acceptance?. Baltimore: P.H. Brooks Pub. Co., 1994. Print.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Beginnings of Autistics Speaking Day

Hi all!!  I wanted to let you know that I wrote a post on the beginnings of Autistics Speaking Day for the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, and it just went up today. 

So go ahead and check it out!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Self Definitions of Recovery

Recently, I took a class called "Mad People's History" at Ryerson University.  It's a course that explores the narratives of psychiatric survivors, on their stories of their experiences in institutions and outside institutions.  Some of the stories we looked at were those of the leaders in the Survivor movement from the 1970s to today, and how they affect how mental health services are operated now.

As part of our assignments, we had to go out and explore our local "mad" community, keeping a diary as we went to record our observations.  One of the things that I noticed was how mental health organizations used the term "recovery".

Instead of enforcing an externally conceived notion of recovery, it is the clients themselves who defines their goals and terms for recovery.  This returns power to the patient and gives them control over the services and supports involved with their lives. This also rejects the notion that recovery is the same for every person.

What I think is that the concept of recovery is different when applied to different diagnosis. Just like there are different causes to disabilities and disorders, there are different reactions and progression after the onset of disability.  This applies to all kinds of disorder, disabilities and what is considered to be mental illness.

In some cases, the term recovery is apt; it describes the process of regaining, restoring and healing from injury, trauma and disease.  These are the times when the disability is temporary and possibly easy to repair without long term effect.  Such cases may be rare, since even as temporary, the experience can have a lasting effect on a person mentally.

Most of the time, recovery and healing can only be partial, compared to skills and abilities before the disabling event.  These can range from barely noticeable differences to huge developments for a person, and can be the result of a large variety of rehabilitation therapies.  The focus with the use of recovery in this setting is to give the person choice in what therapies to pursue and whether or not they want to undergo treatment, under the person's definition of recovery.  

However, there are also permanent disabilities that the term recovery is completely inappropriate. These are the cases where disability happens early on, either through genetics or other forms of causations, and affects development of skills from the get-go. I'm including Autism, ADHD, and Learning Disabilities, whereas skills and abilities have not been taken away, but rather develops to a different outcome at an individual rate.  In such cases, there is nothing to recover, since those skills and abilities might never have been there in the first place. 

It is not a matter of recovery, and so using the term recovery is completely inappropriate.  A more appropriate term is development.  A diagnosed child with these disabilities is going to develop skills at their own rate, but there is also more conscious involvement of parents, teachers, caregivers and professionals in observing and encouraging the development progress.   At the same time, it is difficult to give an accurate prognosis of a child, since there is little to compare a child to other than other children, which is not an appropriate gauge.  Since each child develops at their own rate, it is more accurate to compare a child's progress by the skills that have been developed so far, and try to use that as, at best, an educated guess at the rate the child will develop.

In any case, since a person with developmental and early-occuring disabilities will be following a more unique and individualized development growth.  As a person progresses, they will be building completely new skills, instead of regaining old skills.  Unlike situations where a disabled person may be actively compensate for impairments, the term recovery is completely inappropriate.  While the use of recovery may empower individuals, it can also de-power individuals.

To use the term recovery in such case is to perputrate the myth that there is or was a "normal" individual that can fixed or cured to the state where a person is no longer disabled.  This is a very medical model of disability, which places the burden of impairment and disability on the individual in a manner that is very victim-blaming.  In fact, in the medical model of disability, a disabled person is more or less a victim, whether by accident, the actions of other individuals, or the genes one inherited from parents.  It is then the responsibility of the individual to take up the burden of disability, and make oneself as less-disabled as possible.  This leads back to the idea of cure and recovery.  

If a person is the one defining recovery and is making decisions on how to achieve recovery for skillls and abilities that are capable of reclaiming and compensating, then the use of recovery is appropriate.  But for in the case where a person is progressing with new skills and abilities, then the term recovery is not apppropriate and should be replaced with more suitable terms such as development and growth.  This way a person is empowered by their own accomplishments instead of being improperly compared to unrelated others and potentially being disabled through the medical model.