Tuesday, November 8, 2011

People with developmental disabilities deserve respect

Tony Sampson

By Tony Sampson

People who are mentally challenged get the least or little respect, especially in the workshop environment.

Some have behavior problems, some have health problems, like seizures, and some have interactive problems and do not have good social skills. But sometimes they get treated like second-class citizens by their job coaches and by caregivers in their own agencies.

For example, the “clients” or “consumers” go to workshops, or as I would like to refer them, as adult preschools. Do you know why? Here’s how they start their day.

They are picked up at their homes each day and taken to the agency center. The job coaches prepare the clients’ coffee upon arrival. Then the job coach reads the rules of the workshop to the clients. Then the clients go into their separate workshops.

Nuts into baskets
After the clients do their contract work consisting of inserting coupons in newspapers, nuts into baskets, sorting rags and what have you, they line up to go to the bathroom to wash their hands for lunch. They have lunch for 30 minutes, and it’s back to work! Finally, they get ready to go home.  This is where the disrespect comes in.

A job coach might say to a client:
What did I just tell you?
Do I have to stand by you and make sure you finish the job yourself?
I’m not going to tell you again!
You broke the rule. You told a lie! 

One time a client told an off-color joke. The job coach was offended. The coach told the client, “Now, I want you to stand up and tell every one that you are sorry!” It is a sad state of affairs that people who can’t fend for themselves get treated like they were children, whether they act like it or not, and the reason they act like children is that most of the time they are treated like children, even when they act like adults.

The most difficult thing I deal with is when high-functioning workers are mixed in with the low-functioning workers. In my mind, that’s unfair  because the high-functioning workers do the same work as the low-functioning workers and vice versa. As far as I’m concerned, it is not much work, and there is not enough work to go around!

Do you know what is really unfair? Agencies that write off people with disabilities. I’m talking about agencies ignoring past histories, like job and education histories, etc. Let me elaborate.

Little chance to advance
I knew a guy. He was no older than 30 years old. He had a great job history. He was a janitor at a mall, he had five years as a sales clerk. He was a janitor and a groundskeeper at a campsite. He had his own lawn business in his community for four years. He had eight years of job experience. He came to work for a grocery store. He showed them his résumé. The manager only took a short glance at it and said, “You’re hired.” But instead of giving him a position based on his past merits, he tossed him into a janitorial job with very little chance to advance. Most programs treat clients like slaves, and this is how.
A client wakes up in a group home. He gets ready to go to work. He goes to his job or enclave, like a grocery store. He goes to his lunch. The time he goes there is not an option. It is almost as if he is told what to do. In some agencies, it is. Then he goes back to work. Finally, he goes home, either on his own or on the agency bus. His goes into the community on his own time. Then he has bedtime, and he goes to bed.

In closing, other people with disabilities get respect, but people with mentally disabilities hardly get any. If not now, when?

Self-advocate Tony Sampson is a graduate of Leaders in Disability Policy and a former member of the Maryland Disabilities Council. He has delivered many training sessions on inequity in the treatment of people with disabilities. He works at Home Depot.

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