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Mental Handicap: The World Scene

From: Speeches Of Rosemary F. Dybwad
Creator: Rosemary F. Dybwad (author)
Date: 1975
Source: Friends of the Samuel Gridley Howe Library and the Dybwad Family

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Kings Fund Centre , London, 1975


The International League of Societies for the Mentally Handicapped, founded in 1969, brings together parent sponsored associations from all over the world. In Britain, France, Yugoslavia, and Denmark, in New Zealand and Australia, in Japan, India, Hong Kong, and Indonesia, in Ghana and Kenya, Poland and Spain, across Latin America and on the Caribbean Islands, there exist parent associations, functioning on every level of the "developmental continuum."


The League in 1975 has some 85 member societies in 60 different countries, and every year more are being added.


Concerned parents in India or in Brazil, in New Zealand, Lebanon, Mauritius, or Belgium are, of course, primarily motivated by the desire and the duty to get help for their handicapped children. Yet they soon learn that the help the child needs must come from services -- educational services, vocational services, residential services, guardianship services -- and to secure them, the parents must band together with the other parents, must keep the pressure on public officials and legislators, and must enlist the aid of professional workers and civic organizations.


It is this basic similarity of their needs and concerns that has provided the strong impetus for the parent organizations and has made them, throughout the world, among the most visible and potent consumer groups in the field of human services. And it is this that underlies one of the International League's major functions, the exchange of information.


There is no one country which has all the answers for coping with the problem of mental retardation. New discoveries are made, new developments take place in many countries, and one of the main functions of the parent associations has been to act as an international communications network to make new developments more widely known and to insist -- and insist -- that the authorities put this new knowledge to use.


Here, may I say, lies the difference between the International League and its professional counterpart, the International Association for the Scientific Study of Mental Deficiency, officially established in 1964. In its congresses, which meet every three years, the IASSMD provides a forum where researchers and persons from the many disciplines involved in providing services present new findings, critiques of previously formulated theories, and evaluations of existing services. But the IASSMD as such does not formulate policies, does not propose new services. It provides a presumably neutral ground for professional interchange.


The International League, on the other hand, is an action oriented organization, and the most notable of its many policy statements is the Rights Declaration it promulgated in 1968, which subsequently, in 1971, was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, and is, without doubt, the single most important and influential document in the field of mental retardation.


Let me give you one example of an area where action initiated by the parent sponsored association has led in many countries even to a change of its own name, such as the change in the USA from National Association for Retarded Children to National Association for Retarded Citizens. That mentally retarded children grow up to become mentally retarded adults might not strike you as an example of new knowledge, yet if one takes a look at the way programs are developed and implemented it becomes very obvious how few services there are available for the adults, how little recognition there is of what mentally retarded adult persons need and what they can contribute, and anyone who takes a realistic look at programs for retarded children will see how far we still have to go in preparing them for adult living.


Traditionally, we have seen the answer to the needs of the mentally retarded essentially in medical and educational programs; indeed, for many of the mentally retarded even the need for educational programs was denied. However, when we look at the many years they will spend out of school as compared with the years they spend in school, then we recognize strikingly different and important program needs for which as yet we have made too little provision.


Measures need to be taken to provide the necessities of life for these handicapped adults -- in particular, financial assistance, opportunities for meaningful occupation, and other aspects of adult living such as health care, social activities, and spiritual life. There is an urgent need to recognize that mental handicap is rapidly becoming a major program area in social service, calling for action from that sector of our public life. All of this adds up to a multitude of legislative proposals, organizational changes in public services, different patterns of staffing, and new budgetary requirements, for which both initiative and support had to come from the parent sponsored associations. It also involved the seeking of new alliances with practitioners in disciplines previously not concerned with mental handicap, and the sometimes traumatic and not infrequently controversial lessening of dependence on professional groups that had assumed an all-too-paternalistic, domineering role in the field.

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