Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories


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Later this week, I have to go to a meeting to discuss a training module created on the topic of “consumer control”. Now, for those of us in the disability world, these words have powerful meaning: a tenet of independent living, of disability rights, of civil rights across the board, when you get right down to it. And yet, I am anticipating more attempts once more to water down the rhetoric, to emphasize the progress that has been made in “person-centered” service delivery, in “consumer-directed” service delivery, in shared decision making. And while these attempts to include the consumer/patient/client in the discussion about care and services are better than total exclusion of the person, they are still missing the point.

In my work, the number one complaint I hear from people when they refuse services that are available to them is that the services were somehow intrusive, inappropriate or judgmental. I hear that they are not what the person wanted or perhaps even needed, but that someone–a professional of some sort–convinced a person to accept help, or care–or it was just done for (to) them.

One person determining “what is best” for another person is not an exercise of equality in the least. In fact, as the person–or family in the case of a child–is seen as the receiver of something, rather than as the subject of a service-related relationship, the relationship is skewed from the start. Is it any wonder that people do not follow service plans when they are not the ones who are in charge of them?

Loss of control is perhaps the most frightening part about the aging process, and also within the world of illness and disability, if for different reasons. We seem to have a desire as a society to protect those who do not fit the stereotype of what we deem fit and strong. A number alone–a number of years–can determine whether a person is clumsy, or a fall risk. It can determine whether someone is categorically entitled to certain services, like meals on wheels. It seems to invite sudden permission to resort to diminutives when addressing a person whose name we do not know. And for people with disabilities, if the notion does not invite pity, it may well invite fear, as we avoid the issue of difference entirely simply by not considering access of all sorts, by not even entertaining the possibility of a wheelchair, or a seizure, or an inability to speak.

But we as professionals may well envision our perfect worlds for people. We may know the most effective treatments, and the best living conditions for a certain set of circumstances. And actually, we may have some great ideas based on the experience we have and the things we have seen. But always, always, our consumers are the best teachers we have. It is necessary not only to listen, but to relinquish the reins to them. We work not with the people we serve, but for them. Really. It matters that much. The medical care we give, the services we set up, everything we do should start and end with the same sort of relationship I would expect if I walked into an Apple store, and told the worker what I need my I-Pad to do for me. And we should deliver–and if we cannot, we should go back and figure out how to respond to the need we were unable to fulfill.

I talk to a lot of people who are very good at creating their own solutions that really do meet their needs. A man I met a few weeks ago was in a quandary when he needed a doctor’s signature to complete a transportation form. He had stopped seeing the doctor, because he had pooh-poohed the man’s choice of a treatment that was not what the doctor had recommended–even though that treatment had been effective in the end. A woman sat in a nursing home for months, complaining endlessly to whomever would listen, that she did not want to be there, that she wanted to go home. And yet, over and over she had been told that she was too weak, that she could not manage on her own, that she was not safe. This sort of prison must be the ultimate loss of control in our society. (Now she is home, safe.)

I had a dream not so long ago that prescriptions for medicationss were a thing of the past. All medicines were legal, and available, and we just took them if we thought we needed them, consulted with professionals if we thought we needed to. I know it sounds medieval, and reckless to some, but I wonder as the world becomes wilder, as we self-publish and grow, if we cannot reinvent the sort of control we have as individuals to determine our own needs, if we cannot let go of our own (perhaps unconscious) desire to “help” others (which is another word for controlling them), if we cannot see fit to trust–truly–in the ability of those whose abilities are different from our own to make decisions about their own lives.


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