From sub-human to able bodied: Behavior Training for PWD's
It had been a night of sleeplessness and pain: my limbs in rebellion. I was going to be late for my hour morning meeting with Triumph, the Vocational Service for those with disabilities. So I called to tell them. I was told there was a policy, 15 minutes late and meetings were cancelled. There were other people to consider; this could not be discussed. I was hung up on.
Triumph is government subcontracted disability employment aid, part of their job is to educate employers explaining that some people with disabilities will have to wait for a caregiver, will sometimes be late. But at Triumph itself they never asked if it was a medical issue.
So I was going to get there now, naked or otherwise. I made it, knowing the manual wheeling over that hill would cost me later, breezed by the front desk straight to my case manager and asked to file an official complaint of record. It was explained to me that Triumph’s timing policy was internally called “Behavior Training” to try and “teach” the disabled the importance of being on time. There were no exceptions for medical or other emergencies; if a disabled “client” was late by 15 minutes, they were “Behavior Trained” by denial of access. Though the case manager they were to meet with would be paid for the full hour.
I attempted to explain that any time an organization decided to engage in covert “behavior training” of people in their care, it says a great deal about how they see them, or don’t see them as equal individuals. My partner, who works as a manager in a Government Ministry is used to people coming late because traffic, auto accidents, sick dependants, and any number of events occur which make this a workplace reality. When an organization which has the medical file, and knows that they have clients who are dependant on others for dressing, care, or have rapid health variables makes a no tolerance policy as a way of “training” these individuals, what are they training them to be exactly? Able bodied. Are you having an insulin attack which will delay you? That kind of behavior will receive negative reinforcement.
I explained that this was discrimination on the basis of disability; to know and be paid to assist people with disabilities into the workplace and then deny them services because of their disability. I said by their decisions, they held their “clients” to a different standard than themselves. I told them to stop treating us as ‘sub-humans.’
The Triumph Site Manager came in, wanted to know if there was a problem. I told her bluntly this time was allocated for me, my job hunting and I had no time right now to speak with her. If she wished to speak with me, please make an appointment….and don’t be late. I closed the door, forcing her out of the room. She was visibly upset (to make an understatement). And yet, I had followed Triumph’s own model? Was she in need of more “Behavior Training?”
I turned back and again told the case manager to make the official complaint. She pushed the paper across to me and put the pen in my hand. I looked at her. “You are aware I have limited hand function,” I stated, waited and then began the laborious task. It took me over 20 minutes to write the ten lines. The case manager, after watching a time offered to take dictation. I said, “You chose the venue.”
She apologized at the end of the meeting, telling me that she had pushed the paper and pen across because “I had made her angry.”
My case manager is an employed and paid activist for “creating opportunities for people with disabilities” which includes both employment and independent living. She knew my medical history, had a file of it, had met with me several times, and had even worked to procure a voice software program for me BECAUSE of the limitations of my hands. She worked for Triumph, an organization whose states on their web page “our goal is to be highly accessible to clients” yet pushed a pen and complaint sheet across to force me to painfully struggle to write because “I had made her angry.”
There is something so tempting, so easy in humiliating someone with a disability, particularly when you know their limitations. Take away their crutches, their wheelchair and watch them crawl. Refuse to make allowances, refuse accessibility, to accommodate because you can. Even when you are paid to help and understand them, in the end they aren’t like you and if they make you angry, just tell them they have to write it themselves, no not type…write it, and watch them painfully toil. I don’t know if it gives satisfaction, or a feeling of superiority to watch someone strain as they make a complaint that Triumph is treating People with Disabilities as sub-humans.
It is easy when you are paid to assist, to withdraw that, and no one will know. No one will know you used the medical information a PWD gave you to hurt them, to try and break their spirit, or their pride, or what you consider willfulness, or what you see as arrogance. You weren’t even “Just following orders” like the person I was complaining about, you did this because you could and you wanted to. Though I struggled it wasn’t me who lost my dignity, nor my humanity, but you.
I wonder how often someone “makes you angry.”
We like each other, we were a good match, she said she could talk to me for “ages.” Yet her intent was to make me suffer, and to watch it. She felt the anger. She felt the intent and then acted upon it, confident that no one would stop her. Like her organization, Triumph, the method she chose was one where I could not match ‘able bodied’ actions.
I do fear the acts that people make when I anger them, when I show them hypocrisy and treat them as they have treated me. But I would not replicate that, even to an able bodied person who did it to me. I don’t have the stomach for it.
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