Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rights = choices

My head is spinning today – chock full of thoughts about rights and responsibilities.  Specifically, the rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities. 

The rights of people with disabilities are the same as everyone else’s. 


But theory and practice butt heads a lot and the latter often wins. Vulnerable populations, people whose voices aren’t as loud, or as eloquent, often find their rights restricted. And often, they are restricted by the very people who are there to support them.

It happens innocently enough – someone is told by their doctor that they shouldn’t smoke as much. So staff, being supportive and wanting to take care of the person, limit their cigarettes. 

People without disabilities have the right to smoke as much as they want, no matter what their doctor has to say about it.  So what gives us the right to restrict someone’s cigarettes just because they have a disability?  They have the right to make their own unhealthy choices just like everyone else does.   

I’m working on developing a rights/responsibilities presentation for staff.  And it has me thinking about some of the agonizing struggles we face every day as we try to find the balance between supporting someone and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own choices and their own lives.    

What do you do when someone is making frightening choices about their sexual activities? Spending all of their money before paying for rent and food? Abusing drugs? Choosing to remain in an abusive relationship?  Living on chips and pop?

The best we can do is teach people about their rights, about making responsible choices, recognizing abuse and standing up for themselves.  It’s not ideal, and it’s pretty scary sometimes, but it’s better than the alternative - restricting people’s right to make their own choices in a misguided attempt to keep them ‘safe’. 

We all the have the right to make our own choices – good or bad.

We have to accept responsibility for those choices.

And we have to respect others enough to let them do the same.

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