I recently started a challenging, demanding, and great new job. I work for an online writing company. Being online has several advantages over the traditional 9-5 office job. For one thing, I don’t usually do it but could work in my nightgown and slippers if I chose. I’m doing what I love–writing. And I get to set my own hours.
However, working online takes a lot of discipline. My supervisors don’t track whether I’m working or not; they have to trust that I’m on the clock when I say I’m going to be. They have to trust that I will meet my deadlines, and they have to trust that I’ll read, understand, and respond to client specifications.
Did anybody notice a common thread there?
Yes–my employers and I have to work on a foundation of trust because we’re not face-to-face. But even if we were, we’d still be operating on that foundation, right? Right.
I find it interesting that as a person with a disability, I work in a field that utilizes trust so much. I also find it interesting that my family has trusted me to be home alone 6-8 hours on weekdays (it has its ups and downs) while they work at traditional jobs. Why do I find this so interesting? Well, it’s because some people would say, “Of course you’re trusted because your disability is so mild.” Or, “You’re trusted because your disability is only physical.”
And of course I say–what is up with that?
What do I mean? Well, sad as it is, I don’t think many people with disabilities are trusted in any sense of the word. For example, a child with autism who functions well in his social group is nonetheless placed on a “behavior plan.” His teachers and even parents explain this is because of IEP requirements, federal law, and so forth. And that may be. But too often, the teachers and administrators at school have a negative knee-jerk reaction the second the child seems to “disobey” the behavior plan. Why? Because the child is not trusted to act appropriately.
How about another example? We’ll give the example a name this time. Cedric is an adult with a disability in his 20s-30s. Maybe even 40s. His disability is intellectual as well as physical. He has been placed in a group home (more on “placements” in a future post). He has also been given an IHP that states he must shower and dress within 30 minutes of waking up.
The stated reasons for this? “We have to use these plans to comply with community/state standards.” “Cedric needs to build his independent living skills.” Or even–and boy do I hate this one–“Cedric would never shower if we didn’t have it in a plan.” (Seriously, people? SERIOUSLY)?
But I’ll tell you the real reason for that goal: Cedric is not trusted. He’s not trusted to take care of himself, know his own needs, and set his own schedule.
Or how about this one? Yasmine is a college student. She has a physical disability. Maybe she uses a wheelchair, is blind, has a prosthetic–it could be anything. Anyway, Yasmine is pretty much allowed to do her own thing–except that the college’s disability services have forbidden her to use the dorm’s kitchen. No questions, no examinations, just flat-out forbidden it. Why? Because she might hurt herself. They don’t trust her. They may have “proof” of this, like parental testimonies or an old evaluation from high school, but a lack of trust exists.
Now, am I saying PWDs should be placed in danger just to prove trust? No. If there are real risks, they need to be addressed for everybody’s safety. And there’s nothing wrong with goals, either. But risks need to be assessed fairly, and goals need to be relevant and meaningful. PWDs need real say in what they do with their hours, their days, their lives.
We think that PWDs will be “independent” when they learn to bathe, tie their shoes, cook a meal, make a bed, take a bus. But should that be our standard? I mean, how would you feel if no one trusted you to do those things? To hold down a real job? To be honest with and respectful toward others?
Where’s the trust, people? How about we all work on finding it? And then we can worry about how to cook a meal and take a bus.