Thursday, August 4, 2016
The massacre of people with disability and what parents can do
Until yesterday, I only felt sadness and despair about about last week's massacre of people with disability in Japan. Then I realized there was something I could do. You, too. Actually, you're likely already doing it.
The attacker stabbed 19 people to death as they slept at the Tsuki Yamayuri-en facility in Japan and wounded 26 others. The suspect, a 26-year-old former staffer, had planned the killings, Reuters noted. In fact, he'd stated that he was going to do the deed in two letters given to the speaker of the lower house of parliament in February.
"My goal is a world in which the severely disabled can be euthanized, with their guardians' consent, if they are unable to live at home and be active in society," he wrote.
I read the stories that popped up. I discussed the massacre with a friend over the weekend. Yesterday, I read a post by writer Elizabeth Aquino, mom to a young woman who is severely disabled. She linked to a powerful Forbes story by Emily Willingham about the "erasure" of disabled people.
Emily noted that if there had been 19 children or restaurant-goers injured, there likely would have been far more of an outcry on social media. She pointed out that given that we live in a world where people often see the disabled as second-class citizens or worse, it's "hard to get outraged when you can't see someone as full human the first place."
As parents of children with disability, a lot of us know just what she means by "erasure." I thought of people who have assumed that Max is a tragedy. Elizabeth reflected on dismissive comments she's gotten about her daughter, including "What a waste her curls are, aren't they?" and "Would you have had an abortion if you knew?"
I wondered what I could do. It's how I always feel whenever a tragedy makes headlines. Only this time, it was personal.
The answer came to me yesterday evening, when I bumped into someone I know in town. Whenever she mentions Max, it's always in a pitiful tone of voice.
"I saw you out with Max a few weeks ago, it's amazing what you do for him!" she said.
"What were we doing?" I asked.
"Taking a walk!" she said.
"Well, that's what lots of mothers do with their children," I responded.
"I guess, but you know, not everyone would love a child like Max the way you do," she said.
I was stunned.
"You know," I said, as evenly as I could, "I get that it might seem like Max is so different, and maybe his challenges are more visible than others' but he's a bright, funny and generally awesome boy and I love him to death because he is my child."
She looked a little startled and said, "I understand." Then we moved on to talking about a new building going up in town.
I was glad I said something. Maybe some part sunk in.
It occurred to me as I fell asleep: This is exactly what we, as parents of children with disabilities, can do on the heels of this tragedy and in the face of those who consider our children less-thans, and keep right on doing. We can spread the good word about our children to people in our lives, on social media, on our blogs and wherever. We can help others see that disability is only one part of who our kids are. One person at a time, we can chip away at the stereotypes, misconceptions and misunderstandings about disability.
We can show the world that disabled lives matter, too.
Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images