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“Philly mental health community reflects on Byberry state hospital closure 25 years later “

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This June 22, 2015 article on the NewsWorks website talks about the need to commemorate the people who suffered at Philadelphia State Hospital or “Byberry” as it is often called.  The article also points out that people with mental health issues generally do better when they can receive services in the community instead of being placed in a large institution.  The article also indicates that by nature, large institutions sacrifice the humanity of the people placed there in exchange for efficiency of the work.

“Asylum for the severely mentally ill”

High Royds solitary confinement - geograph.org...

High Royds solitary confinement – geograph.org.uk – 1047059 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Asylum for the severely mentally ill.

This undated audio segment found on the WHYY – Voices In The Family, talks about the issues surrounding the treatment of people with mental illnesses describing how state hospitals have been run in the past, the closure of many of them, and the result of poor funding of community based services which has resulted in an influx of people with mental illnesses ending up in jails and prisons where they are often heavily medicated or placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time.   There is a link within the description of the segment pointing to an article on the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) “Improving Long-term Psychiatric Care Bring Back the Asylum” is a freely accessible publication and is the article that the interview in this segment is based on.

“Protesters send message to ‘Pennhurst Asylum’ organizers”


The above link was posted on September 11, 2010 on the Pottstown Mercury site.  It indicates that there are protests being made against what appears to be a stigmatising and sterotyping “entertainment” piece in the works for Halloween at the former Pennhurst School grounds.

My persoal view on this is that anytime you exagerate or display something that is imitating ANY kind of disability whether it be physical, mental or intillectual in nature, the person or persons doing this are demonstrating how ignorant they are of what people with disabilities can do and in sort resorting to a method of control that says disabled people are of a lower class or value then the rest of society.  People with disabilities may need supports that non-disabled people don’t need, and tasks may need to be modified in order for the disabled person to perform them, but it doesn’t mean that any disabled person deserves to be mocked, ridiculed, or otherwise degraded because they need to go at things differently then a non-disabled person does.  Folks with disabilies have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else and like everyone else they deserve to have their strengths recognized and built on.  I utilize a Psychiatric Service Dog and I get so annoyed when adults point at me and tell their child that my dog is “a helper dog that helps me see”  I understand that most people think guide dog when they see a service dog, but is it really neccesary to point and stare and try to pet my service dog even after I’ve stated I don’t want my dog distracted because she is working?  I know that to some this might be a trivial thing, but it is one example of behaviors expressed by the general public that get fed and reinforced when any form of disability is put on display in what amounts to nothing more then a freak show.  The general public is encouraged to laugh at what they see or make jokes, or point and stare or whatever other “interactivity” might be encouraged as actors or performers stage scenes depicting aspects of disabilities often taken out of cntext.  As a result of being taught to point, stare, laugh, comment or whatever, these learned and reinforced behaviors carry over to the real world, and people treat real live people with disabilites as though they are there for their amusement rather then treating us like humans with feelings. 

I know that not everyone points and stares, and I know there are folks out there who are not disabled who are champions for the cause of helping those of us who are gain better acceptence in a society that despite progress seems to feel we either don’t belong in their world or exsist for their entertainment.

To those who champion the various disability related causes and are always fighting for better treatment and acceptance of those with disabilities, I give a HUGE thank you, your efforts often go without thanks, but know that it is appreciated.

To those who think a disability is something meant to be put on display for your entertainment, I say enough is enough!  I assure you that if I walked up to someone who was pointing and staring at me making false assumptions and teaching their child the same, and I began to hug or otherwise touch the child while saying something like “aww what a nice  rabbit” or some other nonsense I would probably find myself in a police interrogatiuon room. So before you point and stare and teach your child to do the same, consider what you might feel if the disabled person came up without any warning and began petting your child or hugging them …. I’m pretty sure your response to that would be less then pleasant, but yet every day people with disabilities are treated like objects for entertainment.

I would rather hear a parent discretely telling their child A) it’s not polite to point or stare, and if an explenation is needed, simply tell the child that the person needs to do things a little different, but that the person is just like anyone else despite any outward appearances.  When I hear an adult taking this approach which sadly is rare, I will generally take a moment to say hello to the child and thank the parent for teaching their child to view me as a person and let them know I appreciate the kindness.

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