A few days ago, Urocyon wrote a long post discussing cases of disability stigma and discriminiation. She started off quoting one of these classic newspaper articles about neighborhood people protesting the opening of a new care facility for the disabled, with all the usual pseudo-tolerant arguments: “It’s not about the people, of course, it’s the location.” It is unclear to me which people would be living in the facility, because the article first talks about people with physical and learning disabilities (“learning disability” is UK jargon for intellectual impairment/mental retardation), but then refers to people with mental illness as to target population. Not that it matters anyway, since the neighbors’ concerns involved the fact that there is a pub nearby. There is no mention anywhere that the prospective residents will have substance abuse problems, and even if they do, we don’t know how often the neighborhood is currently disrupted by non-disabled people getting as drunk as drunk can be in that pub.
Urocyon checked the location on Google Maps and found out there are already two such care homes in the same neighborhood, one for people with developmental disabilities with a specialty in epilepsy, and the other mostly for people with schizophrenia. No-one is saying that the eighteen residents in total who are already living in these two facilities, have disturbed the neighborhood, so the neighborhood petitioners cannot possibly use that as an argument – besides, even if there had been complaints about the current residents, what does that say about prospective future residents?
I see this sort of politically correct form of discrimination a lot. The Leo Kanner House, a specialist facility for autistic people in a town in my province, wanted to expand its adolescent treatment clinic. Neighborhood people protested. It wasn’t even the adolescents, but… well, I can’t even remember the lame excuse for this. In another city, an agency for developmentally disabled people bought a large villa and transformed it into a residential home for its clients. Prospective residents were not prone to violence or misconduct, but the neighborhood protested anyway. Arguments: the agency had bought one of only ten residences in that neighborhood; why wouldn’t it house its clients in a neighborhood with more homes, so that it wouldn’t be one in ten? Just so you know, one in ten people has a disability. They also argued that they didn’t have a problem with these disabled people moving in, but what if the agency ever had to sell the property again? Due to the architectural changes to accommodate the residents, no filthy, rich, upper class people, who make up the rest of the neighborhood, would be willing to buy the residence then, so what if it’d be exploited to house college students? Lastly, of course, the neighbors feared a decline in the value of their property – because, I presume, intolerance is contagious.
Of course, there is also the fear that mentally ill people, or people with disabilities in general, are criminals. Well, some are, just like some people without disabilities are criminals. Unless they are planning on a home for people with disabilities known to pose a threat to others, I see no reason to use this argument as an objection. And in the case of housing for people who do pose a risk to society, great care is usually taken by the agencies caring for them to make sure they’re housed in a safe location. Do you think the care providing agency would not suffer damages if one of their clients committed a violent crime? Each time someone known to some kind of care agency commits a crime, all papers blame the care provider(s) – the problem in these cases is usually that too many care agencies are working on the case without working together. I bet these agencies do the best they can to keep their reputations, so they won’t place people with severe alcohol problems, who are at risk of violence if drinking too much, near a pub.
Urocyon discusses a few other examples of disability stigma. For example, the treatment received from a GP as soon as they found out she had been diagnosed with bipolar: crappy medical care, an unnecessary, unwanted referral to a psychiatrist, and a generally hellish attitude – all things I’m still glad my own home GP (still formally my GP, but I haven’t seen her since being hospitalized) did not have. She was also denied for blood donation, not on the basis of the meds she was on, but because they somehow assumed she was incapacitated anyway. In the Dutch system, unless you have legally been declared incompetent, capability to informed consent is determined in each individual situation, and a mental health diagnosis by itself does not make you incapacitated. But again, fear, intolerance and stigma seem to be more important than simple facts.