Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Connecting the dots

On the weekend I was in Chapter's and noticed this memoir on a prominent display: I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, xxxx, Wife, Mother and Friend to Man and Dog.

Entertainment Weekly called it a must-read and described it as "nostalgic, sad, and pee-in-your-pants funny." A review in the Los Angeles Times says "it's hard to recall another collection of essays, or a memoir, with more natural charm."

I turned to the back cover and read this:

Here's a quick way to determine if you're going to enjoy Diana Joseph's essay collection, I'm Sorry You Feel That Way. Read the following:

"Yesterday my son was turning the pages in his eighth-grade yearbook so we could play a game I came up with called Guess Which Kids are Retarded. The boy thought the game was terrible, so cruel and so mean that I should have to pay a fine, I should have to pay him ten bucks every time I was wrong."

If you find that paragraph offensive, you will hate this book.

If you know you should find this paragraph offensive, but secretly find it hilarious, you should buy this book. Immediately.

Really? Let's imagine the author had replaced "retarded kids" with another marginalized group: gays, for example, or immigrants, or people with physical disabilities? Would that line still be considered funny? This book was published in 2010. Has humour evolved so little that "retarded kids" must be relied on as the brunt of jokes between mother and son?

In the past, I would have just put the book down and forgotten it.

But instead, I couldn't help remembering a conversation I had with a Toronto mother of a young woman with intellectual disability last week. She was telling me about her daughter's efforts to find work. Mother and daughter had visited a case worker at an employment support program. They were referred to agencies who could help the daughter find work.

These agencies place people in positions at well-known retail, grocery and restaurant chains.

But guess what's on the job description at every single one? Cleaning the bathroom. Yes, cleaning the bathroom is on ALL job descriptions made available to people with intellectual disabilities. The mother and daughter were forewarned.

Is there some reason why people with intellectual disabilities are better at cleaning toilets than the average person? 

Yes, I guess you could say someone has to clean the bathroom, and students and young adults who are looking for work have to be willing to do anything.

But what does it tell you about how the business world, our government and our culture view people with intellectual disabilities when the ONLY job available to them involves cleaning human waste?

And is the message at the employment support program any different than the one the memoirist above gave her sonthe demeaning one that won her rave reviews? Even Library Journal calls her "trenchantly funny." 

The employment support program explained to mother and daughter that whenever a person is placed in a job, the agency that did the placement receives a grant from the government. "Person with intellectual disability cleaning bathrooms? Job well done!"

Sometimes it's really depressing to sit at my desk, reading news stories on disability and hearing from families on the frontlines. 

Sometimes I'm tired of connecting the dots in a system that blatantly discriminates against people like my son, then serves it up as sanctioned literary comedy.


Ohhhhh so depressing. Just awful. Well, I get up in the morning and every day I'm putting one foot in front of the other to try to change minds about my son.... like every parent does about their child with disabilities. Together we WILL overcome, but we need to call out bigotry when we see it. Thank you for this post, Louise.

I think that attention should be called to the book and and it should be boycotted as part of the "get rid of the R word campaign". I don't find it funny at all, and I'm aghast that the write up that the book got.

As for cleaning bathrooms, or any jobs that are given to those who need to be accommodated, it's a fact of life and jobs that it is something that not something other workers want to do, but that any of them can do. So it gets placed in the job descriptions of those who can do it, and need replacement duties that take the place of things that some employees cannot do. It's the way the free market and capitalism works. There is a young man who works at our local coffee shop who has to do the clean up work there, and I 'm sure bathroom duty is included, but he is not able to be a barista, or work the cash registers or do the other jobs, so all of the duties that he can do are taken out of the other employees' to do list and given to him. Even so, he only get part time work, and his mother would love for him to get full time, cleaning toilets or whatever.

Ugh and sighs. I'm with you, Louise. Weary, too, and sometimes feeling defeated, but we'll keep at it.

That made me cross. Catherine can you explain why you think its good people with learning disabilities ONLY ever to do depressing disgusting tasks?

What sorts of jobs is the young woman with an intellectual disability applying for? Because there are certain positions that pretty much come with a requirement to clean toilets, even with the applicant is neurotypical, e.g. bussing tables at a restaurant, cashier at fast food place, attendant at a full service gas station, etc.

It is not good for people with disabilities or nay people to ever have do do ONLY the depressing disgusting jobs. However, when it comes down to creating a job for those who are not able to do much of what has to be done in an organization, and filling the hours and job chart,it comes down to some people only able to do those jobs if they want to work more hours. I have hired employees that could not do certain things, which meant they could not be in their job description and so someone else has to do that job. It comes down to who is left with time to do the jobs that are left. You may need the cashier all 8 hours and the stock person is more flexible in terms of what he can do during those 8 hours. Stock boy can't run the register, but he can clean the bathroom. That's really how it works.

I really think it's an ignorance thing that requires education. If people who write things like that had a "day in the life of..." with someone who lives it everyday, they might think twice about thinking such things funny. It is a sad state of affairs.