Chapter 1: Personal History and Experience with Disability
2:55:41:09 - 02:57:03:25 Lisa: Okay so we have started recording and it's our pleasure to be here today with Graham Mulholland, at Temple University on December 14th 2011. And, also present is our videographer Lindsey Martin. And Graham, do we have your permission to begin the interview?
Lisa: Thank you. So Graham, I wanted to just start simply by asking where you're originally from and why it was you come to the United States?
Graham: I'm originally from Scotland, and I came to the United States somewhere in between Degrees to work in what would now be this reprehensible camp for kids with what would now be called special needs, which was isolated and segregated. And, I came to teach fishing and boating, and somehow met the camp tutor, and came back a year later to get married to the said camp tutor. And, then we lived in Oxford, and then we lived in London, and then eventually when our oldest was nine months old, we came to the U.S. and tried to find a job and house and cars and all that good stuff.
02:57:05:00 - 02:58:21:16 Lisa: You mentioned that you had come to a camp working with kids with special needs. I'm wondering, or I'm sorry, pardon me, you've worked with people with disabilities in Pennsylvania for probably most of your career?
Lisa: And so, I'm wondering what it was that initially drew you to this type of work?
Graham: This is the question that gets me into trouble when I go to job interviews, and they say to you something like, "What is the basis of your interest in disability?" It's a very personal basis. I am manic depressive, which I prefer to the more politically correct Bipolar. And, I was first hospitalized by a psychiatrist when I was 12. I've been in and out ever since I thoroughly therapy-ized and thoroughly medicalized and drugged. And, most of the time so you wouldn't notice, but my origin of my interest in disability was to work with kids with mental health problems and try to provide for them something I got for myself, so it's a very personal passion.
02:58:24:09 - 03:01:30:15 Lisa: Okay. Graham, you had mentioned that you've had a struggle, maybe a lifelong struggle against the concept of cure, and I wonder if that's something you could comment on?
Graham: People really want to cure my mental illness. My parents, perhaps to an extent my wife, certainly most of the professionals that I meet. They want it to go away. And, while I think that's important -- I mean, you really don't want me to be here without my medication, you know, it is important to have that medical model intervention -- there are some things in life that are more important than the medical intervention. It's how you get on with people, how you relate to people, how people talk to you. It's existing in social situations and professional situations, which on some level for me became -- here I am, this is what I'm like. To what extent can you get used to it? And, if you're my employer and you can't deal with the fact that I do my best work at four o'clock in the morning, or that I'm underneath the desk at three o'clock in the afternoon, that's kind of tough, but can you please come to some arrangement in living with me, and just appreciating that I am who I am. And by extension, that's something that I found has resonated with other disability groups to the extent that when I encounter movements to make people with disabilities more acceptable to the public by making them appear more normal by doing surgery for someone who has Down Syndrome, stuff like that. It really seems to me from my experience, that we need to start accepting that some people look different, some people behave different, and our task in the disability advocacy community is to help all those so-called "normal people" to come to terms, and so the target of change for me throughout my career and increasingly recently has been to say, "How do you change the dominant culture to accept a diversity?" That is, disability diversity, just like it's finally become acceptable to accept diversity on racial, ethnic, sexual, or religious grounds.
03:01:31:00 - 03:03:25:10 Lisa: Okay. In the U.S., it seems that we hold a view that, as you were just saying, people with disabilities should conform to the environment rather than asking ourselves how environments can be better modified to support and serve people with disabilities. And, when we talked before, you kind of illustrated this point from your childhood. You talked about a young schoolgirl, a deaf schoolgirl and I wonder if you remember that story, and if you could recall it for us?
Graham: I was thinking back to one of my cousin's classmates when I was young, who was deaf. And, the approach that the Scottish Inclusion System took was to include her, not by having a translator there, but by teaching everyone there British Sign Language who was in the kid -- who was in the class, so that she grew up bilingual, and all the other kids grew up bilingual, and that was the approach to inclusion. It was not a special approach, but it was a very natural way of trying to achieve inclusion, because for the Deaf community, there is that huge struggle of wanting in some ways to be separated from other disability communities or from the community in order to focus on your own language, or your own culture, and at the same time having the struggle of how do you get the accommodation of translation and interpretation taken care of? And, it struck me that the Scottish system was at least worthy of some attention.
03:03:28:15 - 03:06:27:24 Lisa: Okay. So, coming from that background, when you came to the U.S. I'm sure you experienced different attitudes, and I'm wondering what that was like and why it is that you think the attitudes in the U.S. towards supporting people in the environment are so different. It's a big question.
Graham: The big question is: Is there something about America that makes it harder to accommodate diversity? To be interested in diversity? And, I used to get upset about this. I used to think that, you know, Americans didn't really like diversity in any shape or form. I think it really hit me as a white man coming to America, and hearing what white people would tell me when there was no one else around. That, you know, on some level, Americans weren't really comfortable dealing with racial diversity, never mind disability diversity. And, I kind of kicked against that for a long time, and until I realized there's something about this culture that likes homogenous situations or realities and that people are really pretty comfortable if everyone was just like them. Why can't a woman be more like a man sort of thing? And I think that's a realty you have to deal with in living and working in America. It's very easy for me to say that you should appreciate, as an employer, the contributions made by someone whose not very good at their job, but who provides the social glue that keeps the workplace together. It's easy for me to say that as disability advocate, and in an economic environment that is so competitive, that's a harder thing to say, and I think it may be that there's only 20 percent of the people that are really interested in great diversity, and appreciate it for what it brings to the workplace, and the family and to the school, and to other environments. So, I become a little despairing as I get older that things may not change well, but that becomes part of the struggle.
About Graham Mulholland
Born: 1959, Glasgow, Scotland
Director PA Developmental Disabilities Council 1997 - present
Boards, Developmental Disabilities Council, Head Start, Mental Illness, IM4Q, Self-Advocacy