‘When all is said and done, more is said than is ever done.’ Maybe it’s because of the much-prized Irish verbal dexterity, but when the debating points have been scored, the arguments won (and the glasses drained), one can be lulled into thinking that the problem has been solved. And there’s the same danger, even the likelihood, that subsequent actions won’t speak as loud as the written word, either. The stuff of Frontline is words, but the magazine tries to reflect results—research, good practice, service developments—as well as verbal aspirations.
Some of the words in the Summary Report of the Commission on the Family, launched in May, refer to the impact of disability on family life. We hope that the full report’s recommendations will galvanize policymakers to improve the lives of families whose caring role puts them under intolerable burdens.
The Arts Councils of the Republic and Northern Ireland have recently invited tenders for the development of an arts and disability resource pack and database as part of a joint initiative to increase access to the arts for people with disabilities, both as practitioners and as audience members. Let’s hope we see the fruits of those words, too.
Other words—as in the Education Bill?—leave room for scepticism. Kathryn Sinnott and Marie O’Donoghue doubt that the words in the bill mean what they seem to say, after their own years of fighting for the rights of untaught learners with severe and profound learning disabilities. As Vaclav Havel cautions in his excellent essay ‘A word about words’ (Open Letters, 1991): ‘the same word can, at one moment, radiate great hope; at another, it can emit lethal rays. The same word can be true at one moment and false the next, at one moment illuminating, at another, deceptive.’ [I digress, but it is a beautiful essay.]
With regard to learning disability, one person to be applauded for ‘doing’—not just ‘saying’—is US Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith. During her four ambassadorial years in Ireland, in addition to supporting Special Olympics and Very Special Arts (founded by her in 1974), she instituted the annual Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Mothers Awards (see News, p. …), and she assisted in the establishment of the UCD Centre for the Study of Developmental Disabilities, under the auspices of the Kennedy Foundation. In the context of learning disability—‘ni bheidh a leithéid arís ann’.
The terminology debate runs on and on. The NAMHI AGM coincided with this year’s People in Need campaign. It was noticeable that as they showed film snippets from grant-recipient centres for children-who-used-to-be-called-mentally-handicapped, RTÉ presenters all used the term ‘children with learning disabilities’. That recurring NAMHI motion on the term may need to be resubmitted more than once, and perhaps in a less confrontational form than Motion 25 at the 1998 AGM but, almost certainly, it won’t be very much longer before Frontline reports an alteration in title and usage.
Language usage is ever-changing, and the momentum is increasing. As in all things, not every change is welcome—some of us old stagers weep for the terminal decline of the poor apostrophe—but we have not moved from Chaucer to Roddy Doyle without relentless linguistic innovation. Learned Elizabethans said ain’t, but now we ‘cain’t’! Hasn’t the time-lag been brief between the introduction of ‘normalisation’, and its replacement by ‘social role valorisation’? And are ‘challenging behaviours’ becoming ‘interactional challenges’? [Help, I can’t keep up!]
During the World Cup most of us had an occasional eye on the screen, urging on our ersatz-favourite team; those with more leisure sated themselves with matches go leor. Alternatively they may have escaped the box altogether to enjoy the quieter-than-usual, wet-as-usual beaches or mountain paths. Everyone to their own choice of leisure. But what is available for our people with learning disability this summer? For them, is time off a chance to try out new hobbies or sports, to stretch their limbs—really or metaphorically—or are they enduring the tedium of enforced time-off, no centre to go to, no mates to meet, no occupation? [a luvly word, occupation, with a wide range of time-usage definitions, ask any OT]. Another quote, from Wilde: ‘To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world’.
Except perhaps for word-merchants, and wordy editors!