Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dignity of Loss

Something that's talked about a lot in disability circles and special education circles is something called dignity of risk.  Basically, what that means is that we ALL must be allowed to make our own choices - good OR bad, within safety limits of course.  For example, let's suppose that a child with a disability has a full time, 1 to 1 aide in school.  One day, the child decides to go to the cafeteria to talk to his friends instead of going to class.  The child wants to cut class - should the aide let him?

The correct answer is yes.  The child needs to learn that there are good and bad decisions, and that our decisions have consequences.  Any other child would have learned the same lesson - they would have been reprimanded, given detention, suspended, what have you.  The punishment for a disabled child should be no different.  THAT'S dignity of risk.

A similar thought occurred to me today.  I watched in horror as a video of a high school basketball player passing the ball to an intellectually disabled player ON THE OPPOSING TEAM went explosively viral, complete with the requisite "warm your heart" and "inspirational" comments.  No one seemed to see anything wrong with it - except almost every disabled person I talked to.

I'm sure that player had good intentions.  I'm sure he had GREAT intentions.  He wanted to help someone score.  But that's not how the game works, and to completely abandon the structure of the game just so a disabled player can have a chance to score smacks of ableism.  It's condescending and asinine.  It sends the message that the disabled player isn't a real player, worthy of competition.  It says he's not worth seriously playing with.  It says he deserves "special" treatment, separate and distinct from the other players on the team.  If that athlete had passed the ball to a nondisabled member of the other team, he would have been a laughingstock.  Why is it different when the receiver is disabled?



You know what that boy could've done, if he wanted to help?  He could've treated the boy on the other just like any other opposing athlete - someone to be taken seriously, just like every other athlete on the opposing team.  He could've even taken it a step further and offered to teach the boy some basketball techniques after the game.  That would've demonstrated a quiet acceptance and respect.  It wouldn't have been blaring from the headlines - and it shouldn't be.  Acceptance - REAL acceptance, not tolerance - should not be noisy.  It should happen naturally and without fanfare.

Kids with disabilities need to learn, as well, that sometimes they will lose.  And there will be things they will not be able to do because of their disabilities.  I will never be an Olympic figure skater - and that's okay.  I don't want anyone "letting me" skate in the Olympics or giving me a gold medal I didn't earn.  I can't skate, and that's okay.  I have other things I'm good at - reading and writing and singing.  I know where my strengths lie.  So maybe basketball isn't that kid's strength.  I'm positive that he has other areas where he shines.  Cultivate strengths, not weaknesses.  And if that kid really, really, really wants to play basketball, don't just let him play on a team because he wants to.  Teach him how to shoot and dribble and pass.  Have him practice until one day, he might actually be good enough to play competitively.  Treat him like an equal, like a true member of the team.

The real world doesn't bend over backwards to cater to disabled people, and I would never want it to.  People with disabilities, parents and professionals alike need to learn a new term now, a term that I'm inventing - dignity of loss.  Just as you need to let people make their own mistakes, you also need to let them lose their own games.  Let them fail.  Teach them how to pick themselves up, and how to lose graciously.  Let them realize that the world keeps turning, even if you didn't win, even if you didn't score that time.  And finally, let them earn their own victories.  Success is so much sweeter when it's earned, not given on a silver platter.

20 comments :

Anonymous said...

I think disabled people should be allowed some choice to see where they can succeed or fail and realise consequences; but you seriously need to take some consideration as the the level of disability. You don't seem to have many holdbacks intelectually and YOU HAVE NO IDEA THE LEVEL OF DISABILITY IN THAT BOY.

I have autistic nephews (one lighter than the other) and a CP niece that can barely talk let alone walk, she can barely feed herself. I had kids in my highschool class that could hardly understand the work and I know CP people that only have a small hitch in their gait.

I think it's really poor of you to crap on the nice actions of other people towards someone who THEY KNEW and that had a hard enough time they wanted to do something to help him feel like a team member.

It's people like you that cultivate the "Well why don't they just do it?" despite a disability or that call them stupid and freaks and retarded if they can't.

Disabilities come with shortcomings, some bigger, some smaller. Stop crapping on peoples good deeds just because you can't accept that.

Kathy R. said...

Thank you. Thank you for persisting, even when people like me tell you that you're wrong. I responded to a comment you made about this on a Facebook thread last night. Since I made that comment, I've been thinking, and reading, and thinking, and reading some more. Educating the ableist world is a tough job for you and your colleagues, and I'd like to humbly tell you that your message is starting to get through. And I apologize that it's taking some of us a while to catch up. I'm trying.

Nessa said...

Thank you for sharing this – it’s good to take into consideration other perspectives regarding this video. I’ve heard a lot about honoring the dignity of loss. Absolutely there is value in allowing individuals with disabilities to experience natural consequences – it’s an important part of growing and learning to be independent. It’s always frustrating when I see helicopter parents or the equivalent that don’t allow for young-adults to experience natural consequences.

I’ve bumped my head many times and have experienced my fair share of natural consequences (more than I’d like to admit) but I’ve also had a “pass” every now and then. What was heartwarming about the video for me was that it captured a moment in time when someone got a “pass” and it made me reflect on the times when I was allowed a pass. However I completely agree regarding the importance of honoring the dignity of loss. Thanks again for sharing this – it made me stop and think about the importance of experiencing natural consequences and that’s always a good thing!

Meriah said...

Perfect post. I am not going to say anything at all. Just repost yours.

Terryoh said...

It's very difficult for me to judge this video. I really admire this philosophy on the dignity of risk and your extension, the dignity of loss. In high school, I experienced an inverse phenomenon on my debate team. The judges were biased against me in fear of depriving me of the dignity of loss. But I digress.
I can't moralize the students or the coach because there are too many uncertainties. How important was this particular game to the team? What did they sacrifice? Did the disabled student understand the implications of the act? Did the opposing team member self righteously meditate with preconceived notions or was the act spontaneous? The psychology of the situation is definitely ridiculous but much too ambiguous and individualized. My discomfort lies in the intense glorification by the media. The last thing we need is some source suggesting to the consumer how this should be interpreted. It does nothing to promote the dignity of risk or loss and instead dislodges and establishes a role model of bad etiquette. Bad news, bad.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting food for thought... Thank you. Allie

Jo Kelly said...

Well said! The ableist world needs to understand this perspective if we are ever to live as equals. Thank you, I am "sharing"!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you! You are right on. The fact that folks want to measure someone's "level of disability" before deciding they deserve dignity shows how difficult it will be to get people to understand. It gets emotional when people are confronted with the idea that they are treating someone they love patronizingly and, in essence, without dignity.
Keep doing what you're doing!

Anonymous said...

Very first comment: "I think disabled people should be allowed some choice to see where they can succeed or fail and realise consequences." Allowed? Really? This is the problem.

Anonymous said...

I can't share your point. Have you seen him playing? You can clearly see that he was no competition! And he surely wasn't happy about losing all the chances but in the end he could score!

Lydia B. said...

I'm so glad I read this. I'm grateful for your well reasoned and thoughtful post. But... Be kind to those of us who are trying to get it. Sometimes we don't get it right, but I am trying to be someone (and raise 3 other small ones) who are good friends and decent humans. And I'll be the first to admit that I don't know what don't know. But I want to know! Ugh. Sorry - this comment makes no sense.

In any case, this was a great post.

Spaz Girl said...

Lydia - it totally makes sense! I'm so happy for your kind comments, as someone who is a HUGE fan of RFML and has often sent your posts (and those from stark.raving.mad.mommy) to my own mother!

chordatesrock said...

This is how I feel about this topic... probably. (I haven't seen the video.)

Extranjera said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Thank you for putting it so clearly for me to link to it on a few different discussions.

Trinity Resler said...

As a one-on-one aide, I can definitely see your point. I deal with this "dignity of risk" situation every day. When I first started doing this job a few years ago, I was shocked when the student's classmates clapped for him when he got an answer right. I put a stop to it. If you're not going to clap for everyone else, don't clap for my student. I've also had to explain to people on multiple occasions WHY I have let him get into trouble. Much like your cutting class example, this student decided he just wasn't going to take his math test. He just "didn't feel like it, so forget it". His teacher couldn't believe I would let him fail the test and wanted him to have a chance to try and take it the next day. Absolutely not. His disability has nothing to do with his ability to take tests and do math. He can take a zero like any other child would!Thankfully his parents, the principal, and I are all on the same page.

Allegra Keys said...

Thank you for posting this. All through school I had a personal aide and I was never allowed to do what other kids were doing.

Anyway, we should all learn to treat everyone the same way. I hate special treatment.

A Part or Apart? said...

AMEN!Condescension sucks.

Anonymous said...

'Stop crapping on peoples good deeds just because you can't accept that'

Ah, the do-gooders. They get so tetchy when someone throws a little dust to dull down the shine of their halos.

Way to completely miss the point, girlfriend. It has nothing to do with ability, nothing to do with intellect - it has everything to do with having a normal experience during your life so you can grow up like the other kids can. Your 'CP niece' (really? A CP niece?) who can 'hardly walk or talk' is a kid just the same as any other kid.

How dare you say we should be 'allowed some choice'. We don't need your permission to be 'allowed some choice'. We will take our choices and take our human rights, thank you very much. Most ableist comment I've read all year.

Anonymous said...

You're such a good writer! Do you publish for a paycheck as well? We should talk. I think we could change the world. I have cp. I'm also a writer with a very similar voice and style. Probably why I like your stuff. I'm guessing I'm at least 15 years older than you. maybe I'll message you on facebook.

Cara Liebowitz said...

Anon -

I do, indeed, write for a paycheck for both Teaching Tolerance and The Mobility Resource! However, I'm always open to new opportunities!