Heather Yaden, Applied Sentience - June 13, 2014
This article should be required reading for anyone who wants to work in the Disability Rights or Independent Living fields. Or, for that matter, in Special Education, Occupational Therapy, Rehabilitation, or Long Term Care.
It is hard to redirect and appropriately channel the unformed enthusiasm and sense of urgency of people who get all fired up to “help” people with disabilities … without dousing their enthusiasm or shaming them. This article, I think, mostly succeeds. I don’t like the undertone of guilt and shame, but in the end Yaden’s emphasis on humility gets the right message across. If you really want to help a group of oppressed and disadvantaged people, you can’t allow your work to become all about you.
The other thing I would add is that people with disabilities in the disability field are just as prone … if not more … to egotism and falling in love with their own ideas. Just because we are part of the oppressed group we work for, doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of drifting into a messiah complex. In fact, the risk may be even greater for us. Those of us who work in the field ... as activists, organizers, and counselors … can become overly impressed with our own path to empowerment, and push our models and ideas on our fellow disabled people, discounting their experiences just as thoughtlessly as “wanna-be” non-disabled allies.
Plus, you have to constantly check and question yourself. I “get” the ideas in this article, and have for a long time. However, my intellectual understanding hasn’t always prevented me from pushing my own agenda, privileging my own ideas, or griping about the inadequacies of the “consumers” who failed to jump on my brilliant bandwagon.