Sunday, February 24, 2013

Go to the Back of the Bus

The actual bus Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955 in
Montgomery, Alabama, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The bus now sits at
the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (Picture courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)
Segregation. Seclusion. Isolation. Physical restraint. Exclusion. These are words that often bring to mind an unhappy segment of our past. Segregation is a lamentable piece of American history, something from a by-gone era. The idea of an entire group of citizens excluded from the rights, protections, and liberties afforded by the U.S. Constitution is something most people today would find aberrant   

Fast-forward to last week at the Indiana General Assembly. Senate Bill 345 is amended and passed out of the Senate Education Committee. The bill proposes the creation of commission that would develop a model policy for schools regarding the use of restraint and seclusion of students. School corporations would be required to have a restraint and seclusion plan designed to protect all students. This week there will be further discussion on amending this bill. Hopefully it will not die or be watered down to a powerless and meaningless law that has no teeth. 

Last month in Fredrick, Maryland, Robert Ethan Saylor, a young man with Down syndrome, died while in police custody. He was accused of refusing to leave a movie theater. The police were called, and he died from asphyxia after being cuffed and restrained. The death has been ruled a homicide by the Fredrick's County Sheriff's Department.  

In 2012, the Ohio State Dept. of Education re-convened a task force created in 2009 to examine how schools use restraint and 'seclusion rooms' after the discovery of their inappropriate use were made public by news media.  The Columbus Dispatch wrote a series of news articles last summer exposing the routine misuse of seclusion rooms and physical restraint of students in Ohio public schools.  

Many years ago I started out working in my field of occupation at a nursing facility for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in East-Central Indiana. The folks I worked with lived together in a two-wing building with the typical sanitized atmosphere and usual assortment of smells of a nursing facility. They were mostly isolated from their neighbors and community. When we would venture into the community, it was readily apparent the guys I worked with were not 'accepted' by the rest of the town. Most people would stare, but would never engage in conversation or typical small-town niceties with them. 

Much to my embarrassment now, I remember one particular incident in which I took a small group from the facility to Sunday services at a local church. The group I brought were regular attendees, although this was the first time I had taken them. I remember the members of the church were affluent and services were orderly, structured and well-orchestrated.  There was little to no interaction between my group and church members. When we had first entered the church,  I was advised by the usher that our group had reserved seating. In the last row of seats, in the balcony. 

Today, as one who helps advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, I still observe occasions in which people with disabilities are marginalized, segregated, ridiculed, and often excluded from having meaningful participation in their neighborhoods, schools, communities, places of employment, and sometimes even within their own families. 

I want to think that today, ALL people in our country are believed to be created equal and have access to the same rights (and treated with the same respect) as anyone else. We once excluded an entire race of people from the privileges and rights entitled only to people with white skin. All of our fellow citizens should be free from discrimination. However, it is obvious there is still a segment of our population who are not always provided the same respect, dignity, common courtesy and full range of rights that people without disabilities are typically given.

Yes, there are still folks in 2013 who are told (metaphorically) to 'go to the back of the bus.'  We need to advocate for progress and encourage our society to be big enough to allow everyone the right to pursue meaningful lives and participation in their communities without being excluded, disrespected, unnecessarily secluded, and forcefully restrained (or worse).  We are better than that. 


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About Me

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I work for a Community-Based, Not-for-Profit agency. I have worked in the disability field for over twenty-five years. I am the father of two boys, and have been married to my teenage sweet-heart for 23 years. I live and work in the same town where I was born & raised.
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