Mickey Mouse and "mental retardation"

Robin Maisel robinmaisel at earthlink.net
Wed Nov 19 14:47:19 MST 2003

          The term "mental retardation"  is used in both California and
Federal law as a subset of the definition of "Developmental
Disability."  An entitlement to services and governmental benefits for
mental retardation arises when, in both cases, a person is considered as
having a developmental disability, defined as a condition arising or
acquired prior to age 18 (22 Federal law) which continues or is expected
to continue indefinitely, which constitutes a substantial disability for
that person. Developmental disabilities are defined as, mental
retardation, seizure disorder (epilepsy), cerebral  palsy, autism and
conditions found to be closely related to mental retardation or to
require treatment similar to that for mental retardation.  The
definition used by both California and the US Government for mental
retardation is set forth in the DSM-IV(R).  That definition is
presumably to be used for deciding if a person has mental retardation or
not so the government can kill them (presumably after receiving a fair
trial and being convicted of a capital offense).  For purposes of
definition of mental retardation a person's IQ is approximately less
than 70 (prior to reaching age 18 or 22).
        That piece of information explains absolutely nothing and
excludes a lot of people who are or should be entitled to services, such
as those who suffer brain damage after age 18 (or 22) which causes him
or her to test under 70 on an IQ test.  IQ tests are biased as to class,
"race", and sex (and also as to whether you live in an urban setting or
the country) and are at best only a rough guide as to whether a person
has the intellectual capacity to live independently and/or is able to do
the tasks of everyday living, like dressing, brushing teeth, toileting,
self-direction, employment, etc. For more information about IQ testing I
can refer you to a whole library of good books and articles (some by the
late Stephen J. Gould).
        Developmental disabilities under both Federal and California law
includes conditions where the "IQ" of a person is clearly above 70, such
as autism (but not all types of autism as the psychiatric doctors
community cannot yet agree on some specific subsets of autism), cerebral
palsy and seizure disorder (no matter what the "IQ").
 .    Labels are often hurtful as well as inaccurate.  There is,
however, a problem with avoidance of a label being used to avoid dealing
with problems of  alienation and social inclusion.  There are in fact
languages within languages.  Doctor speak is a good example.  Is a
diagnosis per se a label which automatically triggers pity, dependence,
opprobrium and subjects a person to social control against his or her
wishes?  Sometimes.  But my clients at the Regional Center that we were
trying to place with Disneyland all knew that their cognitive processes
were different enough to require a little help sometimes.  The question
was and is, what kind of help did they want.  In the case of Disneyland
the help they wanted and needed was a job in a nonsegregated setting.
Everyone we tried to place was fully capable of working in the park as
guides, store clerks, restaurant workers, greeters, and a slew of other
jobs (including dressing up like the cartoon figures which used various
stereotypes of disabilities to make fun of  various disabilities without
explicitly saying so).  But we should not pretend that disabilities are
unimportant or presume that equality means identical treatment, or
sometimes no treatment at all.
        For example, I use a power wheelchair and from time to time
require the use of respiratory support with a ventilator (but not
requiring a tracheostomy as yet).  I need assistance in a number of
areas of activities of everyday life, including some transfers (into and
out of bed for example) but not with others (driving my van, for
example, using hand controls).  There are some doors which I cannot
open, tables I cannot get my legs under, items I cannot reach both at
the supermarket and at home or at the library.  Composing on the
computer keyboard is possible with some effort  sometimes and at other
times I must depend upon a voice recognition program (which doesn't work
when I am on the vent or  in the afternoon when my voice gives out and
is only 99% accurate on the best days and actually only about 90% most
of the time - i.e. one out of ten words are wrong and must be
corrected). But my "IQ" has tested above 70 so far even if most of you
folk are sooooo smart you are too smart for me.  That of course has not
prevented some people from saying things about and to me which are, in
my opinion, denigrating and stereotypical.
        The language and culture of disability is not widely spoken or
understood by people without major disabilities (even if they know or
are related to a person with a disability), nor by some with
disabilities, and the desires of persons with disabilities when it comes
to common courtesy are as variable as those of the non disabled
community.  The political views of persons with disabilities mirror
those of the rest of the population, including the working class (to
which the overwhelming majority of us belong) and including the
prejudices propagated by the ruling class.  The overwhelming majority of
persons with serious disabilities are poor (even if they start out not
poor, the expenses of disability in medical care and closed off
employment opportunities push us into poverty unless we have someone
else to supplement our income).
       Some persons with major disabilities are not poor, such as
Christopher Reeves who is both rich and famous.  He cares very little
about the rights of persons with disabilities because his money and fame
lets him avoid situations which impinge on our rights, such as being
able to ride on public transportation with fellow human beings (as
opposed to paratransit which is solitary for the most part and
alienating in the extreme) and especially in entitlements such as
health care and employment and housing.. Nonetheless, he is still an
object of pity to most people even in this day and age.
       We don't like to be called names or denigrated.  We don't like to
be lectured to as if we are small children.  If a term offends us, it
should not be used.
       There is little agreement within the communities of the disabled
on a lot of things having to do with disabilities, such as the right to
die but not be murdered, the merits of Deaf Culture and language, the
"cure", etc. (But there is general agreement that the blind should not
drive cars alone given the state of automotive engineering today.)
       But, as with the non disabled, we look beyond the language to the
intent of the speaker and the purpose of his or her discourse.  We don't
expect the laws of gravity to be repealed for us, as we are not
cartoons, but we would appreciate it if you would refrain from dropping
an anvil made by Acme on us.  (Yes, I really do like Road Runner
cartoons.)  There are lots of things about living with a major
disability which the non disabled do not know about and should not have
to know about.
       Psychiatric conditions or diagnoses are another prime example.
Under the reign of Stalin and his successors, psychiatry was used as a
pseudo science perfectly fitted to punishment of those suspected of
nonconformity with the political positions and social inequality
fostered by that anti revolutionary and counter revolutionary caste.  It
is used that way today in most of the world.  Interestingly enough,
however, the characters in cartoon who fit the definitions of "mental
illness" seem to get along with everyone just fine.  I have never seen
Mickey make fun of Goofy or threaten to lock him up.  Donald Duck has
not had to suffer "treatment" with psychotropic drugs.
       But enough.  As I sit here, liberated by my wheelchair, I
wonder:  Have I taken all the humor and fun out of my prior message yet?
Robin Maisel

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