Caregivers Help Disabled Man Lead Able Life is a news story about something that should become too common to be newsworthy. It’s about a non-speaking, non-typing autistic man who’d been institutionalized most of his life, living in his own place. I know a lot of people in that situation, some autistic and some not. Yet people continue to insist that there’s a kind of “Those People” who are in institutions and “have to” be there, and then another kind who don’t.
I’ve written in several places before that some of the reasons I ended up in institutions to begin with had to do with what I’d begun to realize about the world, which was that this was where adults who shared significant things in common with me tended to live. I’ve read about other people having the same reaction, leading them to be locked up as well. The more people perpetuate the idea that “some people” belong in institutions, the longer this will keep happening to every generation of children who can see no other future for themselves. The more people of all kinds live outside of institutions, the more people will see that there’s nothing necessary about institutions.
The moment you create a kind of person that institutions have to be there for, you are creating an artificial “need” for institutions where there was none before. The more people’s lives prove this wrong, the more examples there will be of why these places simply are not necessary for anyone. Everyone who perpetuates the idea that “some people” belong in institutions is partly responsible for the continuance of people being institutionalized.
This is not to say that the outside world is perfect as it is. A lot needs to be changed. There have to be real alternatives to institutions, for everyone. But someone getting out shouldn’t depend on whether, as in the man in the article, people see something interesting about the way he looks. People should all have the chance to get out (and move somewhere better, and be able to retain friendships they formed in institutions, and all the other things that people are always overlooking when they close institutions — this is not an either/or situation).
I look forward to the day when all of this is history, and there is nothing extraordinary in disabled people, including those currently identified as the most severely disabled, living outside of institutions. But in order to move towards that, people have to stop assuming that there’s some class of people who’s “better off” there automatically.