A Bad Example

In 2008 I won a National Disability Award for personal achievement. I thought this was missing the point, so after they  handed over the plaque I had my attendant read out a short speech.

The Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra
December 3rd 2008

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’d like to thank the judging panel for choosing me,
and I’d also like to thank the many people who’ve helped me along the way and made it possible for me to be here in Parliament House tonight.

I spent my childhood and adolescence in a state institution for severely disabled children. I was starved and neglected.  A hundred and sixty of my friends died there.  I am a survivor.

That isn’t a heroic achievement. Anyone who was put into a large institution in the times when large institutions were sugarcoated concentration camps was as much a hero as I was.  They stayed alive when they could and they died when they couldn’t. Such heroism is easy to achieve in giant barracks where the prisoners stay alive through being cheery enough to attract a staff member to give them that vital extra spoonful of food.

I wasn’t exceptional in anything other than my good luck. I was selected for an experiment.

Rosemary Crossley wanted a subject for her Bachelor of Education literacy project. She chose me.  The aim of the experiment was to see if I could make gains in my tight-armed pointing to blocks with different colours on them.
Rosemary found I could point to colours, then to words, and then to letters.
She taught me to spell and to make my wishes known.

I made known my wish to leave the institution, and then all hell broke loose.
I went to the Supreme Court and won the right to manage my own affairs.

Unfortunately, that didn’t mean that the institution offered the other residents the right to manage their own affairs. I was an exception.
Through no desire of my own, I was out front in the struggle to get rights for people without speech.

I tried to show the world that when people without speech were given the opportunity to participate in education we could succeed.  I went to Deakin University and got myself a degree.  That, too, was seen as an exception.

I gave papers and wrote articles on the right to communicate.
I set up a website to show that there was hope for people without speech.
People thanked me for being an inspiration; however, they didn’t understand why there weren’t more like me.  They continued to act as if speech was the same thing as intelligence, and to pretend that you can tell a person’s capacity by whether or not they can speak.

Please listen to me now.

The worst thing about being an inspiration is that you have to be perfect.
I am a normal person with only normal courage. Some people who should know better have tried to give me a halo. Anybody could have done what I have done if they too had been taken out of hell as I was.

If you let other people without speech be helped as I was helped they will say more than I can say.

They will tell you that the humanity we share is not dependent on speech.
They will tell you that the power of literacy lies within us all.
They will tell you that I am not an exception, only a bad example.

Many are left behind. We still neglect people without speech. 
We still leave them without a means of communication.
It should be impossible to miss out on literacy training, but thousands of Australians still do.

As Stephen Jay Gould wrote,

We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of a life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

Anne McDonald

 

If you're interested in my other work, check these out....

If you want to know about my years in hell, try St. Nicholas Hospital.

If you want to know what it did to me, read My Frankenstein.

If you want to know what I think of euthanasia, read this.

If you want to know more about my story, read the book I wrote with Rosemary Crossley - Annie's Coming Out, Penguin Books.  It's out of print, but second-hand copies are available on Amazon and Alibris.

If you want to know how I got out, look up Facilitated Communication Training.

If you want to know why communication is so important, read The Right to Communicate.

And read about the people who are trying to stop it.

And there's my work on The Terrible Triple C, another one of the ways in which professionals bastardize people with disability.

If you want to know how I enjoy myself, watch this.

And I travel...

Here are a few links to friends.

I also work for DEAL and Communication Rights Australia (CAUS) and speak on issues and speak on issues of disability. For my most recent articles on people without speech being bastardized see No Angel and Buried Alive.

If you want to contribute something yourself, give some money to DEAL; they're working to see that nobody is left without a voice.

Seriously. Think about it.

Warning: there is quite a bit of overlap between these articles.  When you take as long as I do to spell a sentence you use it as often as you can, and the hell with repetition.

 

Or you can email me at anne.mcdonald(at)annemcdonaldcentre.org.au

Anne McDonald Centre. 538 Dandenong Road, Caulfield 3162 Victoria, Australia Ph: 03 9509 6324, Fax: 03 9509 6321
 
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