Off the Leash: Should We be Tracking PWDs?

Hi readers,

Here’s hoping everybody had a relaxing Labor Day weekend whether or not you have a traditional 9-5 job. If you’ve seen any of my previous posts on Labor Day and the kind of work PWDs can do vs. what they’re often made to do, you know what I’m talking about.

My friend galacticexplorer and I recently spoke about my last post. He and I talked about the fact that often, PWDs are not allowed to experience life. Thankfully, that’s not true for every PWD. Because of inclusion and a shift away from the medical model, society has gotten better at including persons with disabilities in school, college, work, relationships, and so forth. But so many PWDs are still left with gaps in their social and real world knowledge. That is, they may be taught to fold laundry because it’s a life skill, but do they know how to hold an authentic conversation with the person at the next Laundromat machine? They may know table manners, but do they know it’s okay to speak up and pick the restaurant when their friends and family go out? To order their own food and send it back to the kitchen if the order is mixed up? (Or is that considered being “noncompliant” to the wait staff)?

But even though PWDs have gaps in their social knowledge, even though they’re often barred from experiencing life, I see the able-bodied community trying to make people with disabilities’ lives more convenient for itself. That is, the (temporarily) able-bodied community is constantly trying to come up with ways they can keep tabs on PWDs so the PWDs won’t “disrupt” what is considered “normal” life.

Some of these methods we already know about. An IEP is a method. A behavior plan is one. A group home is one. Therapy is, at its worst and in its own way, a way of controlling the PWD and his or her life. Now granted, some of these methods may be necessary. For example, IEPs help ensure educators obey the law and do right by students with disabilities–in the best-case scenario. But some of these methods are questionable and even frightening.

One such method that recently came to my attention is tracking. That’s right, folks–there is currently a push to outfit children with autism with “tracking devices.” Yeah, like those collars they stick on wildebeests in the Serengeti. Probably not quite that primitive, but you get the idea.

The justification for this push is, “Autistic children ‘wander.'” And don’t get me wrong. I have heard plenty of horror stories wherein a child or teen with autism, or even an adult with the intellectual age of a child, wandered away and was hurt or killed. But I’m going to raise a question. Hands up if you know what it is.

Right: would you place a tracking device on someone without autism? And, which disability (ies) are next?

Some people are already talking about doing exactly this. News outlets have reported that as early as 2017 (let that sink in folks; that’s a little over TWO YEARS), everyone might receive a microchip to prevent identity theft, kidnapping, and various other tragedies. Of course, the people spearheading this movement say the chip implantation would be by personal choice. But for how long? The fear of mandatory chip implantation already runs rampant, thanks in part to certain interpretations of Revelation like the Left Behind series. (Not coming down on a side of that issue here, though you’re welcome to ask me about it in the comments section).

So here’s the deal. When it comes to chip implantation for everybody, including the able-bodied, there’s a lot of fear and decrying of the idea. But specify that the person has a disability? Boom–suddenly that person needs to be tracked because otherwise they’ll wander. In other words–horror–they might go somewhere you disapprove of! They might not be under constant control!

Think about it. These days, what do most of us do when we’re out at Wal-Mart or Costco or wherever and see parents with their kids on leashes? We think it’s nuts. What do parents do with able-bodied kids to teach them not to wander? They say firmly, “Stay with Mommy and Daddy or there will be consequences.” They say, “You may go play, but only where I can see you.” They may give an age-appropriate talk about strangers. If they lose a kid in public, they page the kid, who they’ve probably already taught, “Go to the front and ask for help, or find a policeman/security guard.”

Now, I get that those rules are different when you’re dealing with severe disabilities. If your grown child with autism functions mentally at age five, he or she should probably be taught to stick close. But really, guys, what is UP with the tracking devices?

Many parents and loved ones of PWDs prize independence. Whether they should or not is another discussion. But consider this. If you teach people that they must be on a leash, they will never learn to function without one.



  1. galacticexplorer · September 4, 2014

    Hmm good and valid point. I could see how this could be useful in some cases, but I anticipate it being much more often abused and misused. Although, to be honest, I think lots of parents kind of wish they had trackers on their children. That’s not an autism thing!

    That’s the worst part about a lot of the way that society treats PWDs. It’s de-humanizing. We tend to “other” people that we don’t relate with or view as the same to the point that we treat them in a completely different way than we’d treat any other human being. In fact, I was thinking about your blog today when I was on the bus on my way back from therapy (yup, I’ve got issues). Two women boarded the bus. One of them was loud and outspoken and the other I think was perhaps accompanying her. The loud one greeted the bus driver (she obviously knew him and seemed to know everyone on the bus) and then said “I’ve got my retard with me today” referring to her companion. I was kind of jarred to hear that kind of language. The other woman (who seemed to have some sort of mental disability) laughed and seemed to take it in good fun, but it sure made my skin crawl. During the bus ride, the loud one would sometimes refer to her as “retard” rather than a name. They seemed to be laughing and having a good time, so maybe it was an accepted inside joke between them, but I just don’t see how in ANY situation (at least in public) that is in any way acceptable. What if there was another mentally disabled person on the bus that wasn’t in on the joke? And can I be sure that it was really being taken as a joke, or was the woman just used to being demeaned like this and just didn’t care anymore?

    I didn’t really know how or if I should step in and say something since she was an adult and competent and I don’t want to seem like I’m treating a person with a disability like they need a able-bodied savior either. But, what the f…udge? I don’t know. What would you have done?

    • independencechick · September 4, 2014

      I’m with you–what the fudge? It’s really hard to know what to say or if to say it, especially when what you hear *could* be an in-joke. In fact, I had a lot of problems with that when I was growing up because a classmate of mine, who claimed to be a friend, would constantly say hateful things to me. Then it was, “Why can’t you take a joke?”

      Because this was on a public bus in front of a bunch of people, I probably would’ve waited until I could get the able-bodied woman alone. I then might’ve said, “I heard what you said and find it jarring/offensive.” Straight up–don’t shame the person, don’t get into a debate. Just something that says, “That’s not cool.” That way, you also avoid making the other woman feel like you’re being a savior. That’s tricky for anybody–sometimes I like it when others stick up for me and other times I don’t. I think it comes down to how that person defends me. If they make a big deal of the situation, it’s awkward. So if you were going to defend that woman in front of her “friend,” I would’ve said, “Ahem, she has a name, you know.” Even better, turn to the woman with a disability and say, “Hey there, what’s your name?”

      • galacticexplorer · September 4, 2014

        I think you’re right that confronting the woman alone might have been best. I unfortunately didn’t get that opportunity as she got off at a different bus stop than me, but I feel a bit better that, if I see a situation like that again, I will have a better idea of how I want to respond.

        And I totally feel you with the “can’t you take a joke?” thing. I think sometimes humor is one of the most powerful ways that an abuser can exert their control over a victim. It’s a way to consistently put someone in their place while simultaneously making the victim feel guilty for objecting to the treatment. If you don’t laugh at your own expense, then the abuser can paint YOU as the bad guy. I’m glad that person is only a “friend” now.

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