Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Institutionalization 101

Letchworth Village in Rockland County, New York closed its doors in 1996
Click for background [Image Source]
Some believe that the last word has been said about institutionalization. That while its evils in other countries have been publicized. That Israel is an exception. That its institutions are another breed, are laudable and deserve to be nurtured and supported.

So let me make it perfectly clear: Institutionalization of children and adults with disabilities is unequivocally evil - even here in Israel. Even a la Aleh!

The warehousing of people with disabilities has been and still is being halted everywhere else in the developed world. That same transition must be achieved in Israel. Now. 

Institutionalization in and of itself is now recognized by experts as the worst solution to the challenge of caring for people with severe disabilities.

Here is what a Columbia University lecturer and parent of a child with disabilities wrote after the August 2016 massacre [background here] of people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Japan. 

By warehousing people with disabilities, institutions send the message that they need to be segregated and managed. It becomes easy for their differences to be seen as a shameful and frightening secret that happens to other, less worthy people.
In truth, disability is an aspect of ordinary experience that touches all people and all families at some point in the cycle of life. As disability studies scholar Rosemarie Garland Thomson notes: The fact is, most of us will move in and out of disability in our lifetimes, whether we do so through illness, an injury or merely the process of aging.”
By warehousing people with disabilities, institutions send the message that they need to be segregated and managed. It becomes easy for their differences to be seen as a shameful and frightening secret that happens to other, less worthy people....
James Trent, a professor of sociology and social work at Gordon College, in his 1994 book, “Inventing the Feeble Mind,” describes shifting attitudes toward and treatment of people with disabilities in America since the Colonial era. According to Trent, in the Colonial and early republican eras, “idiots” – as people with intellectual disabilities were known at the time – were recognized members of their local communities. But beginning in the 19th century, the rise of modernity put greater emphasis on normality. A good citizen was one who had the ability to be productive and self-reliant. A new class of professionals emerged whose careers were devoted to managing human health and behaviour.
By the mid-19th century, these changes had contributed to the identification of “feeblemindedness” as a social problem that needed to be identified and treated. Feeblemindedness was a broad category that included people with intellectual disabilities, but also others who were deemed unproductive or immoral, such as immigrants, people of colour and the poor. It became increasingly common to remove the feebleminded and other people with disabilities from their families and communities and place them in institutions. Early institutions in the United States were inspired by French educator Edward Seguin, known as the “apostle for the idiots”. He believed that people with intellectual disabilities were capable of learning and development.
Inspired by Seguin’s success, the first American institutions, led by men such as Hervey B. Wilbur, Samuel Gridley Howe and Henry M. Knight, were dedicated to education and uplift. They were intended as a temporary measure to build residents’ skills and moral character, releasing them as productive members of society.
Within a few decades, the mission of institutions began to shift from reform to permanent custody of the feebleminded. It was hard to find employment for newly reformed inmates, particularly during periods of economic scarcity.
In the early 20th century, the eugenics movement contributed to prejudice against the feebleminded by proposing that they posed a threat to the purity and strength of the nation’s bloodlines...
By the mid-20th century, the rise of a parents’ movement and a series of damning journalistic exposes of facilities like Willowbrook State School and Letchworth Village began to roll back the practice of institutionalisation." 
["Why has Japan’s massacre of disabled people gone unnoticed?", The Independent (UK), August 31, 2016

Note to the Aleh PR team: Beware. Brandishing the euphemism "village" (here for instance) does not cleanse a place of its institution-ness. In fact, the infamous Letchworth was positively buccolic:
"The grounds surrounding the buildings were very plentiful and created lots of leisure space for patients." [Wikipedia]
Campaign poster from REPLACE [Link]
It's important to note that institutionalization had its roots in good intentions and compassion akin to the sentiments of the many misguided supporters of Aleh.

And here are findings of Disability Rights Internationala little-known organization dedicated to investigating the conditions in institutions for children with disabilities, 
The team is small, but they’ve made some genuine advances over the years... An expose of abuse in one particular facility that DRI collaborated on with the New York Times Magazine, contributed to the historic 2006 UN treaty on people with disabilities, which called for disabled people to have the same human rights as the able bodied.“It’s something that we can change,” says Laurie Ahern, President of DRI: “This is really not a complicated problem; this is about donors putting money to families and not supporting orphanages.” ... DRI, Lumos and other organisations including the Replace Campaign all support the idea that we should change this culture of institutionalisation and work on keeping families together, supporting communities, and improving social networks. ...[Their] work has also led to the European Union introducing a policy where European money cannot be used for maintaining any kind of institution... There is also an economic argument, Ahern adds: “It’s so much less expensive for government to support families to [help] children with disabilities go to school, than it is to pay to keep them in an orphanage for a long time. ["Out of sight: the orphanages where disabled children are abandoned", The Guardian, September 26, 2016]
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, let's remember: There is no  better atonement for the sin of institutionalization than de-institutionalization.

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