Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Why is using electric shocks on disabled students a non-story?

Members of disability rights group ADAPT protest the use of electric shocks on disabled students in front of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's home in Washington, D.C.

By Louise Kinross

What if you heard that a school used electric shocks on students for even minor infractions like refusing to take a coat off, closing their eyes for 15 seconds in their seat, or crying?

I first heard about the Judge Rotenberg Center (JDC) in Canton, Mass. WAY back in 2012. That's when I signed a petition by a former staff member to stop the electric shocks used against children and adults with autism and other developmental and emotional disabilities in their day and residential programs. That petition was signed by over 260,000 people.

In 2016, the FDA proposed banning the use of electric shock devices because it “determined that these devices present an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury.” But the proposed regulation sits in limbo, and students at JDC continue to be shocked.

For the last two weeks, members of the disability rights group ADAPT have been camped out in protest in front of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's home in Washington, D.C. That's a photo of them above.

But no mainstream newspaper has covered the protest, or the story of the students who continue to be shocked.

Now the members of ADAPT have been told they'll be arrested if they don't vacate the camp they've set up.

In 2014, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network wrote this history of the school's use of electric shocks over decades, noting it had been condemned by current and previous United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture:

"Children and adults at the JRC who are subjected to electric shocks are shocked on their legs, their arms, the soles of their feet, their fingertips, and their torsos," writes the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. "Often, they are shocked for years, even for longer than a decade in some cases. These shocks come from a remote-controlled backpack, called a Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED), which is attached to the student’s back. These shocks have been known to cause blistering and painful red spots on the students’ skin. Additionally, the GED-4 was created to be even stronger than the GED-1 and therefore has potential to cause more pain and more injury. Some students receive hundreds of shocks per day. One student received 5,000 shocks in one day...

"There is a disproportionate number of students of color within the JRC. Forty-five percent of JRC students are Black, and 28 percent are Latino. One psychiatrist who visited JRC described it thus: “Street kids, kids of color, carrying these shock backpacks. It is prison-like and they are prisoners of the apparatus.”

What is it about North American culture that makes physical abuse of disabled children and adults a non-story?

Last week, CBC reported 2014 Statistics Canada data that showed Canadians with disabilities are almost two times as likely as others to be the victims of violent crimes.

Way back in 2012, the World Health Organization reported that children with disabilities were 2.9 times more likely to experience sexual violence and 3.6 times more likely to endure physical violence than non-disabled children. This was based on 17 studies in high-income countries.

But in Canada? Aren't we better than that? Apparently not, according to our new data.

Judging by the lack of media coverage of the ADAPT protest, shocking disabled American children and adults in a way that's considered torture by the United Nations is not news.

For a personal story from a former JRC student, please watch this video