The Donkey of Thesis Completion.
Hope you were able to finish the thing without busting your ass.
Hilary, very much appreciate the links, especially the Donald Beasley Institute. While I've yet to read the reports in detail, I'd like to say that, while the transition and closure seems to have been handled admirably, through the 80s the institution was allowed to run down for politically expedient reasons. This is hinted at in the Beasley Report's mention of the "working life in an institution in its heyday and as it gradually closed". I don't believe that this was done in the best interests of the inmates.
With hindsight, Kimberley should have been phased out earlier with the welfare of the inmates paramount, rather than first reducing it to a dismal shell of an institution. There's a book, the title of which I won't mention here, which purports to be a history of the place, but it's an abominably written travesty.
Kerry, I'm glad that someone's mentioned psychiatric issues. I think this reinforces just how diverse the term disability is, and how overgeneralising can sometimes obscure issues. My interest is driven by my experience with intellectual disability, specifically those who measure as low IQ. This is completely different from, say, Russell's coalface involvement with Asbergers/autism, and the whole other world of psychiatric disabilities, not to mention the special concerns of the deaf.
While the concept of a disability community might be useful in a given situation, many of these groups, if that's how they might choose to see themselves, have as little in common with one another as society at large does with the disabled in general. I've seen a young sufferer from birth trauma intellectual impairment recoil in horror from a group of Downs people that someone had suggested they might benefit from working with. At the time I could only sympathise.
I have been to about four conferences where keynote presentations have been given by people institutionalised as children for their severe disabilities, either intellectual or physical or both, and some are still non-verbal, and require extensive support. All fought to live in the community. Technology has now allowed those who do not speak to communicate through words.
I'm sure you'd have found a lot in common with those who fought to improve the lot of people with intellectual impairments, such as the late Charles Guy, head attendant at Levin from its inception until his retirement in the 1960s. Your mention of the advantages brought by technology is very much reminiscent of his enthusing about the huge improvement in the quality of life enjoyed by hydrocephalics since the development of the cerebral shunt.
Respect, Hilary - you're advancing an honourable tradition.
Joe, have you seen "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"?
Thanks Sacha, wonder how I might be able to track that down?
I've known a few people who worked at Templeton as far back as WW2, and a few who were 'patients' there. A couple of them are still on deck. I'm more familiar with Levin, which was started just after WW2, largely with former Templeton staff and inmates.
Attempting to build a case for a sinister historical eugenics-driven agenda in NZ doesn't quite stack with reality. Please remember, at a time when euthanasia in the name of eugenics was being carried out in Europe and Japan, the wartime NZ government was 'manpowering' people into caring for the intellectually disabled., often against their will. I've heard stories of more than one nervous breakdown suffered by people who were totally unsuited to such work, and by the disturbing sadistic tendencies of some staff.
Fortunately this was NOT the prevailing culture. Surely it's a testimony to the inherent humanity of this country's policies that things worked out as well as they did. Interesting that you mention Plunket. While Truby King seems to have held some barkingly nonsensical views, I doubt that anyone would dispute that the organisation was a major force in improving child healthcare.
My impression is that, while 'psychopaedic' institutions such as Templeton eventually grew too large and centralised to meet the needs of a changing society, up until the 1970s they were, by world standards, largely humane and progressive.
While too much time has passed now, it would be great to have a better record of the stories of inmates - to the extent that this would be possible - along with staff and, perhaps as important as any, parents and caregivers who either surrendered or volunteered their charges to such places.
I'm not interested in casting myself in the role of apologist for the methods of an era whose time is well past. Just saying, in the late 80s I visited a group of former patients I'd known from my younger days at Levin, adult males whose facility had been closed in order to place them in Salvation Army care. Without the community and freedom to move about that they'd once enjoyed their lives seemed sadly impoverished. It was largely a cynical cost-cutting measure carried out on the pretext of patients' rights.
I don't believe that extreme concepts of racial purity and 'breeding out' congenital deficiencies were given any real credence here by the 1950s - the prevailing culture was far too pragmatic for such nonsense. There was an enormous emphasis on providing quality of life within the institutions of the immediate postwar decades. That's the essential difference between the way things were then, and the current emphasis on integration into the community. Rather than congratulate ourselves on our comparative enlightenment, we might do well to realise that we have a worthy history to learn from.
Hilary, Sacha - thanks. I'm not knocking People First. As I'm a little underwhelmed by my past dealings with IHC I'm certainly impressed that the organisation has moved beyond that association.
I've learnt the hard way that one should attempt to remain open to all developmental possibilities, even when such hopes are sometimes rewarded with crushing disappointments. In my own case I've been incredibly fortunate, though I know of others who've wondered what they've done to have such a burden placed on them.
I'm aware that advocates for the intellectually impaired must often deal with cases where family members exploit the vulnerable. When you're responsible for someone who aspires to enjoy what the world offers, but is at risk because they lack the developmental skills, few things are more grating than receiving a well-meaning lecture on the rights of the disabled. I've felt a lot of resentment on occasion towards those who claim to know, but are able to confine their involvement to work hours.
I'm still somewhat troubled by references to people with profound and clearly identifiable intellectual disabilities being incarcerated against their will. While this no doubt happened, it certainly was never widely practiced in living memory. The notion that such people were largely potential Christy Browns or, Dog forbid, Forrest Gumps. is simply romantic.
Please consider that intellectual disabilities sometimes require a more intensive degree of care than any poor parent could provide. While many of the intellectually impaired continue to grow and develop throughout their lives, sadly there are those who won't, simply because it isn't physically possible. Along with a general advocacy of human rights for those with such disabilities we need to ensure that they receive appropriate care and support. Forgive me for harping on this point, but there are a disturbing number of people with intellectual disabilities in NZ whose 'rights' have only lead them to jail and alcohol abuse.
People First is a self-advocacy organisation for people with learning disabilities (their preferred term) and I'm sure it has members with microcephaly.
Sure Hilary. And if the entire site wasn't designed, built and maintained by those with profound intellectual disabilities then I'm sure it's only due to the entrenched prejudices of people such as myself.
Having spent a fair chunk of my adult life involved in raising someone with an intellectual disability, I'm not unfamiliar with the glib admonishments of those whose involvement extends no further than advocacy.
In the 50s and 60s there were a number of microcephalics at the Levin Hospital and Training School, which later became the Kimberley Centre. I remember them because I grew up in a staff house on the hospital grounds. While I had the privilege of knowing a number of the residents there, I never had the impression that microcephalics were the kind of people that you might form anything other than a caring and protective attachment to.
I did encounter one when I was a teenager, who'd happened to wander at least a kilometre from his 'villa' into the neighbouring paddocks. When I spoke to him he seemed alert but unresponsive, almost like a bird. He was, I'm certain, a bone fide microcephalic, and while he showed no aptitude for speech he was certainly capable of negotiating fences and gates, not to mention breathing.
I do find the concept of an advocacy group of microcephalics to be purely hypothetical, though. The last sufferer from cretinism in NZ was an elderly woman in the 1960s, who presumably passed away from natural causes. Thanks to medical advances in the treatment of congenital hyperthyroidism the condition is now practically unknown in the developed world.So, if an advocacy group by and for sufferers had been formed in time, might they have opted for a different outcome? Personally I find such a possibility as far-fetched as animals forming animal rights advocacy groups. There's a real issue here of defining the needs of the vulnerable, which won't be solved by casting 'society' as some kind of crudely oppressive force bent on violating their rights. That has never been the main thrust of our history in NZ.
While I don't doubt Islander's midwife story I believe that this country has largely treated the severely intellectually disabled in a humane fashion. Euthanasia was hardly ever the norm, and eugenics never gained a real foothold.
I believe that we should learn from our history of how such things were treated, rather than subscribe to a form of received wisdom that most of what happened in the past was utterly barbaric. While there's been some dreadful institutionalised cruelty to psychiatric patients in this country, by and large the treatment of those with major intellectual disabilities has been progressive by world standards.
I'm aesthetically "brutalised" every time I look out of my living room window, only to have my eyeballs molested by the arse-ugly Sky Phallus. Can I go murder architect Gordon Moller now? Please...
Good point. Once the whole wide sky's been privatised, and if you happen to be a major shareholder, no jury would convict you. In the meantime, as Dirty Harry Callahan would say, a man's got to know his limitations.
I worked for a company in Australia that employed a deaf guy as a trainee. As most of their employees thought with some justification that management were tossers, I remarked to his supervisor that perhaps they weren't such a bad lot to give a deaf person a chance. Nah, she said, it's a cheaper way of assuaging their guilt about such things than having to put in wheelchair ramps and special toilets.
What she did do, though, was take the initiative to call a deaf organisation, who sent someone around to explain pretty much what Emma's stated above, plus some basic signing. It was a great move for everyone.
"She's blind as a bat." Ur, no: bats generally have good vision, and wonderful echo-location abilities.
Only the microchiroptera. The megas - flying foxes of all types - get by purely on their eyesight. That's my pedant quota for the year gone.