Chapter 5: Societal Shifts
03:46:20:11 - 03:50:22:06 Lisa: Because we're talking about communities and societies becoming more accommodating to people with disabilities rather than asking people with disabilities to slot it, it occurs to me that, of course, many people without disabilities think that disability issues aren't relevant to them, which feels, certainly from my perspective, shortsighted, given that many of us will face disability in our lifetime either situationally or perhaps longer term as we age. I'm wondering why -- there's probably no easy answer, but maybe some of your thoughts on why we don't see better integration and inclusion as a society as kind of our moral imperative. Easy question, right?
Graham: Real easy question. I would like to think that in some ways the idea that differences in abilities are part of the human condition will become accepted. Partly, that's because more people are getting called disabled as the population grows older, and the baby boomers become what they become. There will be more need for some kind of accommodation of disability but I would like to think that the sort of working conditions at Google, the sort of individual attention, individual freedom, flexibility, honoring of creativity would become more the case than a more regimented, rigid, factory-like production line, especially since production moves overseas in America. And, I think that should happen not because someone sat down and said," This is a moral decision that we made that we ought to open our doors to different ideas." But, because it's actually successful, adaptive, and effective in doing business. So, I kind of have this hope that doing disability right, which is about finding what everyone brings to the table, and honoring it and valuing it, will become something we do because it fits with some traditional American values of individualism and success, rather than because we sit down and pass a law, oh we did, didn't we, it was called the ADA, that says that we out to all believe in those things. I always find it really interesting that the group that in many ways has got the most public acceptance a non-dominant culture, people who are gay or lesbian, have that degree of public support in the absence of legislation rather than because of legislation, so I hold out hope that as America evolves, we will have a much more interest in ways of doing things that will open more doors two more people.
03:50:23:03 - 03:51:33:09 Lisa: It's interesting that you mention that group, because some people would theorize that the way they've been able to bring their issues more into the mainstream is really connected to their buying power. That people in the media and people who market products who are able to tap into the gay/lesbian/bi/transgender community very easily and maybe for self-serving reasons, so I'm wondering how it is the disability community, or what lessons the disability community might take from a group like that. Particularly when they tend to be under-employed and maybe not seen as having the market value; the buying power that the other group might?
Graham: Yet there are billions of dollars in the disability industry and I would just like to stand by two or three questions and see if people are spending the money that is -- or the resources that are given to them are on the by themselves and making their own decisions in their own local communities about what they buy, or how they go about supporting themselves. I think that's got to bring some degree of economic firepower.
03:51:43:24 - 03:54:15:05 Lisa: Thanks. So, here we are in the U.S., where you know, our country was hopefully transformed by the Civil Rights Movement as you mentioned earlier, the ADA, we have a little law called the ADA which has been in place for about 20 years. Yet, people with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, can continue to be under-employed, children graduate school at 21, often with really nothing to move into. I know that although you're no longer a Wolfensberger junkie, you were one. Wolfensberger before he died, seemed to be fairly pessimistic about where people with disabilities are in community. He thought they were perhaps lonely or marginalized. Maybe it was where they were four years ago. I'm wondering if you agree with that assessment, or where you see the community as being today?
Graham: I think rejection and stigma are huge issues, and it's probably hard to imagine how those things go away. I wonder, sometimes, whether the disability world's view of disabled people as being special and different and needing to align themselves with the dominant culture, doesn't actually contribute to that, and that if we were all to adopt a view of disability that said, the way to deal with accommodation is not to have the person with the disability being the one doing the changing, but to have the broader culture the one doing the changing, it might slowly open more eyes, have more people have more contact with people who are slightly different, but still just the way God made them. And that maybe we could have some grounds for some degree of optimism.
03:54:17:19 - 03:57:38:04 Lisa: The disability community, which is so very diverse, the diversity should be one of it's strengths, yet some people have observed that the movement seems a bit fragmented. I wondered if you would agree with that assessment and if so, why do you think there would be fragmentation?
Graham: No. We absolutely eat our own babies. The degree to which different disability communities fight with each other is just ridiculous. Yet, we've attempted to fix that by artificially insisting that we're all the same and shoving our differences underneath the carpet so we don't see them. There are people who think that institutional, congregate settings for people with disabilities incident are a good idea. I happen to think they're wrong, but I'm not prepped to join in the chorus as treating them as idiots for having that thought. There are many of them well-intentioned, good people who had looked at the community and said, "This is a scary place." We need to start having conversations that start off by allowing us to have differences of opinion. I was once in a meeting where -- it was sort of a cross-disability group. We were talking about the tobacco settlement and folks with physical disabilities said, "If they're going to do something about prevention, we're out of here, we're not having anything to do with this at all." And, others had to explain to them that in intellectual disability community, prevention was something was at least talked about. We need to talk with each other about the differences in opinion that we have, and not just try and pretend we're all the same, and if we ignore the fact that some Deaf people like it be with other Deaf people because they have the same culture and the same language, that's not a bad thing. Once we get together and recognize the continuities and the discontinuities in what we're interested in, then I think we can begin, and only then can we begin to identify the real enemy. And, the real enemy is anyone who thinks that difference is wrong. And, yet, we've tried to approach that by denying our own difference. Difference is good. Difference is exciting. Difference is interesting, and we need to have more and more of the population, disabled or non-disabled believing that difference is good and exciting.
03:57:40:00 - 03:59:02:20 Lisa: Given the current political climate, would the disability community be well served if it aligned itself more closely with other minority groups?
Graham: I think politically, the disability community needs to align itself with the interests of the folks in charge politically. And, you need to look around at who is being paid attention to by the people in political power. I would suggest, in a realistic evaluation, that people who are talking about ways to diversify funding, to marry private and public funding, to involve faith-based communities in funding, is a way that will resonate with those in political power. People with disabilities have to look around and see if whether their interests and issues of cultural and linguistic competence, for example, equally resonate, with people in political power.
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