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Thursday, October 07, 2010

I Am Perplexed

Today, a person I respect asked me a question that I had never considered. Never even crossed my mind to consider it, even hypothetically because I am very blessed to never have had to deal with it.

In a forum discussion on government vs private charity, she asked me, staunch Objectivist that I am, what about the mentally retarded? That pulled me up short. Don't get me wrong, I am well aware that she works in a group home where many mentally retarded individuals live and try to normalize and mainstream. However, I had never thought about how that happens. Financially happens.

Who pays for their care? If memory serves, they have counselors and caretakers on the premises 24/7. I know that when I first met Amber she was working nights there for extra money. I believe that several years later she is doing the same thing. I've always admired that she truly loves this job. It's not meant for everyone, and she genuinely cares and worries about the folks living in the home she works at. From different people I've heard that she is the exception rather than the rule.

Those who know Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism have had the question of her views on the handicapped put forth, and then misquotes from a speech she gave at a West Point Q&A are then hurled into the air like flak during a WW2 air raid.To say that the tape of the event is heavily edited is one of the biggest understatements of any century. You can find this tape at the ARI for Individual Rights. Listen for yourself and decide for yourself. I will only speak my truth.

For one, in her day, it was not common for people that were considered retarded to be productive in any real way. No one would hire them, and most commonly, they were exploited. Ms. Rand saw the accommodations made for the handicapped, the expense of it all to the capitalist as an onerous burden that should not be regulated and mandatory. She probably would have had an aneurysm to see Bush I sign the Americans with Disabilities Act that so many have use and exploited.

This is the problem I see is this. I understand that the parent of a disabled child would need help. However, I do not think that it is the duty of every person with healthy children or healthy people themselves to support that family and their handicapped child. Now, before you start crying in your tofu, think about it for a moment, where does it them stop? How long are we on the line to take care of something that does not effect us in any way whatsoever? AND, before you start screeching the house down about how I hate retards (and that is exactly the way your mind forms it) I've never said that, not once, and is not true in any reality you wish to inhabit.

The problem is, you see, levels of retardation. In my community we have two young people with Downs Syndrome, a couple more with cerebral palsy, and one or two with other afflictions that mark them as different from the rest of the community. I will be honest and say that each time I see these children my heart breaks. I often think of the things they will never know. Things like a first kiss, the love of their own child, or stupid things like Dance Dance Revolution. I also think of the things they don't know like bigotry, judging a book by it's cover and not accepting anything different from themselves. Then I see their lives as more than just some level according to some dumb test made up by lab rats.

One of the boys in our town has Downs Syndrome and he has worked at the local independent grocer for as long as I've lived here. I've seen him graduate college, get a girlfriend (who also has Down's) and he has earned a living since he was 16. He lives with his parents, although he is very high functioning and could probably thrive in a group home. He'll never go to college, or drive a car, but he is always happy when I see him, even when he's been carrying out groceries in wretched weather. He always says hello when I encounter him away from the store, and he loves to tell me about his latest interest. I'm always excited to hear what it is. He's a great kid. I, for one, am glad his mother made the choice to keep him. He lights up a certain corner of my world.

He is not the norm, however. He is the rarity among the handicapped who cannot or will not work or be productive. I think of all of the truly handicapped people that I know, and not one of them is content to rest on their disability. Conversely, everyone I know who got one over to get declared disabled, chuckles about getting one over on the Government, not realizing it's people like me who keep them in all... that.

So, what do we offer parents and families of the truly disabled, and I am sorry, I do not consider blindness or deafness a disability. They are conditions that those who suffer them don't whine about, but thrive in spite of. They love their productive lives and would hate to be thought of as a burden to anyone. I will relate this story as it opened my eyes to how these things are thought about by people who live with it everyday.

I was in an airport lounge, waiting through a 4 hour lay over in some science forsaken hub, and sipping on a coke and reading a magazine, when a conversation around me got too loud to ignore. Evidently, on a pre-boarding call for those with small children or disabilities a man using crutches to walk ran over a blind man trying to get to the ticket taker and get on the plane. The airline brought both men in to the lounge to try to get some order out at the gate and to get them settled down before boarding.

As I put down my book to listen in, yes, I was nosy, the guy with the crutches made a move toward the blind guy. They yelling started all over again, and one of them called the other a "feeb". WOW! At this point I was the consummate rubbernecker. Two disabled guys were throwing down and I was there to see it! It finally ended when Blind Guy told Crutches Guy that he was no more disabled than the guy wearing tight shoes. The boarding agents apparently agreed and Crutches guy boarded with everyone else.

Now I want you to think about this, how many times do we see stories about Para-Olympics, soldiers back from the war with missing limbs, etc., doing amazing things and showing us, they are not disabled. They are very able and still willing to participate. People in wheelchairs, on crutches, with prosthetic limbs don't think they can't do things just because of these conditions. Again, they don't think of them as disabilities.

But what about the truly disabled? I think of Christopher Reeve and Stephen Hawking and I find my definition of disability narrowing more. But there are people who are mentally handicapped and not able to function at the levels the rest of us do, simply because, for whatever reason, their minds don't work as ours do. There is nothing physical about that. What do we do with these people most don't want to see or acknowledge? Is it our duty to support them? Should they get medicare?

I don't know the answer to that question. The obligations on the family are onerous, but is it then our duty to pay taxes to support them? Again, I don't know. I don't know of any private charities that help folks like this. They may exist, but I am ignorant of them. I would like to think that some producer somewhere has some sort of foundation for such a thing, but I honestly have never heard of it.

I think that in a free-market society, someone would come up with a private charity to help families with their mentally handicapped children and not make any of this a burden on society. And let me be clear, I think only mentally handicapped are truly handicapped and incapable of any sort of real production in society. Where do we draw the line, though? Some sort of Forrest Gumpian number that determines whether or not someone is too slow to ever fend for themselves? I can't say. I would need months to consider this question.

The thing is, these are cracks all over these people could fall in to and none of us would care enough to look for them. That's a scary thought. I'm just thankful to people like Amber who remind me that they do exist and that there are people taking care of them. It humbles me, because I would like to think that there is nothing I can't do. I know I can. I also know that I won't. That makes me sad.

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