Charity versus Social Justice

I was invited to speak recently at a statewide conference in another state and prior to my introduction a state political leader came forward to give the supporting organization a proclamation of recognition. Now I have seen this happen before and in fact, have had my own organization, CLASS so recognized in the past, so this wasn’t strange

What was curious however, was that the politician who read the proclamation prefaced his remarks by quoting the bible and talking about how special we staff are to do the work we do, and how wonderful we are for committing ourselves to service to these folks with disabilities. And this kind of charitable reference happens often, both formally and informally. I still hear from friends, and especially those not in the field, how special I am for the work I do - as if we are like Mother Theresa for choosing to work with folks who have disabilities.

Now this kind of perspective clearly creates a downward image. It comes from a pity orientation and holds those of us who do disability support work as being wonderful for our commitment to these poor (and unfortunate) people. And to challenge this approach is delicate as it might make us look ungrateful.

Still, this thinking must be combated and for me, I try to shift the conversation from charity to social justice. That is, the agenda is not to feel bad for the people we serve, but to point out the social injustices generally faced by people with disabilities. In this shift we move the thinking from micro (its about the individual) to macro (its about the culture and society). The more we change the culture, the more we create parity for everyone. Think about it.