Recently, a young boy by the name of Alex Barton participated in an experiment on democracy.
Sounds harmless, right?
Way off. Wendy Portillo, Alex’s teacher, allowed his classmates to go around and tell him all the things they did not like about him. After the class told him he was “disgusting” and “annoying”, the teacher allowed them to vote him out of the class. After a 14 to 2 vote, he spent the day inside the nurse’s office.
Alex is five years old and in kindergarten. He is currently going through a process to see if he has Aspergers syndrome, a disability on the autism spectrum. Since being kicked out of his classroom, Alex’s personality has changed, he says he feels “sad,” and he is seen telling himself over and over “I’m not special, I’m not special.” Florida authorities have said that effects do not meet the standards for emotional child abuse.
At the end of this entry are ways you can tell Florida schools you think all people have the right to an education and to be treated with respect.
One aspect that really bothers me about this case is our strategy for addressing ableism (or not addressing it). There has been a HUGE outcry from the autistic rights community. Although I have not even begun to dip into all of the blog posts written on this case— it’s now estimated that 50 people have already blogged about this!—I am surprised at the way we as a community and as individuals frame this issue. Much of the outrage has come in the form of the golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or, so they’ll do unto you when the tables are turned), which Lastcrazyhorn writes about. We’ve all talked about how NO ONE—aspie or not— should have to go through this trauma. Though this is all very, very obviously true, I’m left wondering why we can’t name what happened ableist. Instead we have to say that no one deserves this treatment, you wouldn’t want this, we’re contributors, and give other explanations. It’s like the word ableism has no power.
In my experience, it seems like we cannot talk about disability rights without explaining to other people why the other person will benefit from “giving” this right to us. When disabled people have to fight for ramps and elevators or the right not to be warehoused in a sheltered workshop or nursing home, we say things like “Well, if there is a ramp, it’s good for business! Older people and people with strollers can shop here.” or better yet, “If we’re trapped in a nursing home, we can’t make any money and contribute to society! Get us out and it’ll be good for you!” This strategy of equating our rights to our ability to be contributors (you help me, I’ll help you) is capitalist and US dominant culture based as I think BFP has said a few times. Do we know how to talk about disability in another way or does it hit a nerve because we’re undervalued and constantly need/want to prove ourselves? I think we HAVE to have this conversation on disability or we allow ourselves to be silent to classism, racism and other areas where extinction is based on the “bad contributor, zero contributor” like disability. Proving we’re contributors only address the symptom, not the problem.
Maybe this it’s-good-for-you strategy is based in some internalized shame, I dunno. Last weekend when I was on my crip trip, the power and water went out at the place we were staying. Our hosts were AMAZING (it would take me a whole page to write about how they came together and did everything they did to accommodate us.) The next morning, our group went around in a circle and praised them for their adaptability. After a good thirty minutes of this, a queer disabled activist from New Mexico, brought up a point about our thankfulness. Yes it was good to thank them and acknowledge their hard work, but was our gratefulness (again, that took over 30-40 minutes of a very short time together) just our appreciation or was it also our internalized belief that we didn’t deserve these accommodations?
There are benefits to the golden rule strategy too. Disability encompasses so many things so maybe this strategy makes sense. In an interview on EndeavorFreedom TV, Tom Olin, a long-time disability activist and historian, talks about his experience in the struggle for liberation. “The fight for disability rights transcended most politics. It was a common denominator. If people could understand disability rights, they could understand human rights throughout the world.” A friend of mine always says that talking about disability is talking about life because the conversation includes what is life and other questions. That’s the very nature of disability. Maybe this is why we have this strategies.
Anyways, these are just flowing thoughts though… curious to hear what yall think.
Here is what you can do to protest the way Alex Barton was treated (info from Bev):
Morningside Elementary School Principal: Mrs. Marcia Cully firstname.lastname@example.org (772) 337-6730St.
Lucie County Schools Superintendent: Michael J. Lannon4204 Okeechobee Road Ft. Pierce 34947-5414 Phone: 772/429-3925 FAX: 772/429-3916 e-mail: email@example.com
St. Lucie County School Board Chair: Carol Hilson 772-519-0397 HilsonC@stlucie.k12.fl.us
Vice Chair:Judith Miller772-528-4545 MillerJ@stlucie.k12.fl.us
Please copy firstname.lastname@example.org on any emails you send. ASAN asks that everyone use respectful language in addressing those listed.
(Hat tip to Aishwarya. I’m not sure if it means I’m a bad autistic rights ally since EVERYONE was writing about Alex, but I first heard of this issue on feminist blogs. Good to see feminists allies taking steps on disability issues though.)