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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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This does not mean that the associations will stop providing services. Far from it. It means, though, that instead of providing basic services they will be constantly looking to ways to fill gaps and add dimensions to the lives of handicapped people. It is hard to see a time when this vital role will be over in a society which is constantly changing at a rate with which statutory provision simply cannot keep up.


2. From service provision to demonstrating new ideas


This does not mean that the associations will manage the services provided by the state. Management and advisory committees cannot act as monitors; they can only act as managers and advisors, BUT we are living at a time when the need for truly independent monitors is well acknowledged. They are not tied by management considerations or the need to reconcile conflicting professional views; they can go STRAIGHT for the good of the individual person. This is a tremendously exciting new opportunity for voluntary associations in the field of mental retardation.


3. From a narrow concern for mentally retarded people to a wider concern with all handicapped people


This does not mean that the interests of mentally retarded people will be swamped. Far from it. It means that the "lobbying" strength of the associations concerned with them will be able to unite with other groups and so grow, while at the same time protecting the special interests of retarded people. By extension, the associations will be able, through their own special interest, to spearhead some critical looks at the way our societies are going and what they offer to their weaker citizens. A good example here is the associations' proper concern with prevention of mental retardation. We know that the most important field of prevention lies in tackling the inner city problems of poverty and deprivation; work here by the associations is bound to have long lasting and far reaching effects on the health of society as a whole.


4. From an organization primarily for parents to an organization for and with mentally handicapped people themselves


Handicapped people have, in the past, been largely left out of the decisions which can affect their lives quite vitally. The associations, in their recognition of the need to give handicapped people a voice, are already starting to lead the way in the sort of "consumer involvement" which will be the basis for the better services of the future. At the same time, it is the associations, through their special interest and expertise, who can do like none else the vital job of introducing the handicapped person to his "normal" peers and so ensure that his integration into society is a real one and not just a paper one.


5. From an organization which does what others can do to an organization which provides what no one else can


This does not mean that the traditional involvement and hard work of parents which has developed the associations until now will be forgotten in future. Quite the contrary. Parents, members, freed from the heavy responsibilities for providing services, will be able to concentrate on the one area which no professional, no other person, can do as well: the counseling of parents who have just met their own retarded child. The "pilot parent" projects are the beginning of a new strength for parent members.


In summary, the associations find themselves now at a tremendously exciting time of change. They will have an increasing freedom from the many heavy responsibilities of the past which will enable them to launch new creative efforts for the decades to come. They will be relieved from the responsibilities of things which other people can do to turn to things which they can do better than anyone else.


I hope that this brief excerpt from the Canadian report has given you an appreciation of the important continuing role that awaits the active and progressive associations of parents and friends of mentally handicapped citizens. Let me now call your attention to another development, a closer working together but also from time to time a closer confrontation between these national associations and national governments.


Denmark was the first country to prescribe, by statute, representation from the Association of Parents of the Mentally Retarded, both on the national and the regional mental retardation boards. For many years this 1959 Danish legislation remained unique, but in more recent years some other countries have introduced similar arrangements. Switzerland has established a standing commission on retardation, an advisory body, after long effort by the Swiss Federation of Parents of the Mentally Handicapped, and its president serves as chairman. Persistent work by the Norwegian association resulted last year in a national regulation establishing in each county a three-member "watch-dog" committee to monitor adequacy of retardation services. A representative of the county's parent association serves on the committee.


In some other countries, such as Belgium, Sweden, Spain, and Australia, there are government appointed national commissions dealing with all handicaps on which the associations for the mentally retarded are represented. It is noteworthy that in Spain this commission works within the Department of Labor, Spain having been one of the first countries to recognize that sheltered workshops and vocational training centers must of necessity be considered in the context of labor policy.

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