Lost in Translation

Or, How Disabled Individuals Lack Freedoms in the US

Anna Stubblefield was in love with her client DJ, and DJ was in love with her. This would have been a matter of simple impropriety (and rightly so) were it not for the fact that DJ’s disability was a severe form of cerebral palsy (CP) and Anna was her therapist. Psychologists had previously been incapable of communicating with DJ, and had deemed him mentally retarded. Anna knew (or claimed to know) differently. Through the use of technology and a system known as facilitated communication, she was able to communicate with DJ.

This poses two issues:

  1. If DJ is mentally retarded, does that preclude him from being involved in a romantic relationship?
  2. If DJ is not mentally retarded, how does one prove DJ’s intelligence when the court throws out his only communication method as “unscientific”?

The answers to these questions are fairly simple:

  1. Mental retardation does not preclude involvement in romantic relationships in general, but a therapist cannot be involved in such a relationship.
  2. You can’t prove intelligence without a means for an individual to communicate.

This is certainly not a shining beacon of hope for individuals afflicted with CP, autism, or another communication-impairing disability. That a therapist would even think of involving themselves romantically with your child is every parent’s worst nightmare. Admittedly, DJ and Anna were both adults, but this is still not ethical in any way, shape, or form.

This is not an unheard of situation, though. Stephen Hawking, when afflicted with his own disorder of ALS, became involved romantically with his therapist as well. But of course, people already knew that he was intelligent…

So what happens to the average individual with communication deficits who fails to undergo treatment? Once again, a simple answer: They become wards of either their parents or the state and lose all chance at self-directed living. And unfortunately, due to the sheer cost of treatments for communication deficits, the vast majority of individuals thus disabled remain in that state, as their caretakers cannot afford the treatments. Sometimes the parents don’t even trust the treatments.

How is it at all reasonable for individuals with communication deficits such as autism to be restricted from self-directed living when their higher cognitive faculties are still fully intact? How is it legal for therapeutic treatments to cost such an inordinate amount of money that they are not available to all? Isn’t education supposed to be mandated by law? Why should individuals with, say, cerebral palsy, be treated any different than individuals with blindness, or deafness, or any other disability that doesn’t impair communication?

To return to the case of DJ and Anna, Anna perhaps deserved jail time for her breach of confidence. However, she did not deserve to be charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault.

More importantly, DJ should never have had his facilitated communication treatments taken away from him. They may not be “scientific” in the eyes of the court, but if they aid him in communicating when all else fails, they are necessary for him to live self-directed. He now lives as if he is mentally retarded, and most people are none the wiser that trapped inside his brain is an ordinary (or greater) level of intelligence.

Full disclosure: I have both a mild form of CP known as spastic diplegia and a form of high-functioning autism, so the topic of injustice against the disabled is near and dear to my heart. I dream of a world where autistics and the like are valued for their unique worldviews, and not seen as liabilities. Already, tech corporations such as SAP and, more recently, Microsoft, have instituted autism hiring programs. Hopefully the trend continues.

Source: The New York Times Magazine

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