‘I have a dream’

by Stephen Kealy


MARTIN LUTHER KING spoke eloquently and powerfully of the plight of black Americans denied the basic human right to have a better life. A true champion who repeatedly came back to the theme of those conditions which forced many to live as an ‘under class’, he identified how millions of people, nameless to many, were ‘bleeding to death from deep social and economic wounds’. He spoke about the need for massive civil disturbance to effect change.

To ensure that change happens, King stated the obvious: if someone is in danger of death, the ambulance driver doesn’t stop at traffic lights. Speed is of the essence, and the driver goes at top speed to the hospital, so that the patient can get the care they need to continue to live their life.

Congregated settings have compromised the right of many to live a better life. These settings have been slow to recognise the voice of the individual—a recognition of the person. If there is no recognition of the voice of the person, does this mean in effect a mortal psychological wound, and that the person does not exist? The report on congregated settings is welcomed, but it is also a tragic recognition of the lost lives of so many individuals.

It is refreshing to read the articles in this issue of Frontline that clearly identify that things can be done differently, that many more people can benefit from a rethink of how scarce resources are deployed. It is also encouraging to hear how lives become better by living ordinary lives in ordinary places—in one’s own or an adopted community.

It is no surprise that people enjoy and respond well to living in their own homes, where opportunities for individual recognition are part of the fabric of their lives—such a simple but compelling understanding. Martin Luther King urged all, irrespective of race, colour or creed, ‘to live the dream’ and he sought active support from people in their own communities to achieve change.

Change for those living in congregated settings can also be achieved by the leadership of people who control massive resources (until now tied up in congregated settings) to look at meaningful alternatives—to push out the boundaries and make change happen. Disturbingly, there is no sense of discernible outrage about these settings that has yet been converted into active evaluation, through the implementation of agreed standards.

Martin Luther King’s closing remark in a Christmas sermon could apply to all people living in congregated settings or unsuitable environments: ‘Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that, I close today by saying, I still have a dream, because you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all and so today I still have a dream.’ (quoted from King’s The Trumpet of Conscience).

Where are our champions to ensure the achievement of better lives for people with intellectual disabilities?