We focus in this issue on that group of people defined as having a mild intellectual disability. As a frontline worker, I see at first and the elation, and the frustration, that is the lot of such young adults.
Elation for these young people, as for all of us, comes from the achievement of a goal—be it a sports trophy, a certificate or a rite of passage such as a state exam or a graduation. Frustration is probably their more familiar companion. Many of them have a high level of awareness of what they lack—connectedness to their community, the ability to achieve the three R’s perhaps, a career, friends and relationships. Awareness is a blessing if you have the ability and resources to bring about change, but it’s a curse if you don’t. It leads to frustration, which can manifest itself in inappropriate behaviour, opting out, moodiness and sometimes depression. Perhaps this explains the above-average incidence of people with a learning difficulty appearing in the criminal justice system. People with a mild intellectual disability are, in general, indistinguishable from their ‘able-minded’ peers. They are not readily identified as having a disability—often an added disadvantage.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the field of supported employment employers who promote their ‘positive to disability’ policy prefer to be associated with employees who have an observable disability. Positive to ‘visibility’, perhaps?
We have recently seen, quite rightly, the defeat of the proposed Disabilities Bill as a blueprint to enshrine in law the rights of people with all forms of disability. It is clear from the debacle surrounding the Bill that government is not in all cases ‘for the people by the people and of the people’. In reviewing recent cases brought against the state by haemophiliacs, hepatitis C victims and parents seeking the right to education for their children, one would be forgiven for adopting an Orwellian view—a view that sees the people as separate from and perhaps the enemy of the state, rather than as being one and the same.
It is far too easy to be negative, however, and to dismiss all initiatives and opportunities as too little or too late. There will always be issues to be addressed by and for people with disabilities. As parents, frontline workers and advocates, we must not see ourselves as separate from or vesting total control in our political representatives. We must inform, guide, direct and even harass them and mobilise all and any forces necessary in order to achieve jointly what is required. It was through such action that the proposed Disabilities Bill was rejected, and should be rejected again if need be.
Perhaps the very title ‘disabilities’ bill should be reconsidered. If it is to portray a positive concern for a disenfranchised group in our society, should it not enter the statute and indeed the history books as such? Perhaps the ‘Abilities Act’ or the ‘Enablement Act’ would be more fitting.
Many of the positive things in the arena of disabilities have been realised as a result of initiatives by individuals and groups responding to a need or a gap in provision, and not as a result of legislation. We know too well that the weakest link in any law is the lack of compliance/enforcement. After the celebrations when a Disabilities Act is finally enacted, the new battle of monitoring its delivery will begin … Elation and frustration.