I recently shared two stories about inclusion (you can read them here and here). And now I want to share a story about exclusion. A story about an instance in which someone with a disability could easily have been included but was thoughtlessly excluded instead, for no reason other than that a professional, who certainly should have known better, was lazy and insensitive and didn't want to be bothered.
A number of years ago, I was an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital, a hospital that specializes in treating trauma-related disorders like PTSD. It's a great hospital, Forest View in Grand Rapids, and I highly recommend their services to anyone in need. Most of the employees were absolutely fantastic. This experience I'm about to write about was definitely the exception, not the rule, there.
There was another patient there at the same time I was there who was deaf. She had lost her hearing as an adult and had adapted really well, I think, as far as I could tell, anyway. She learned ASL and was fluent in both ASL and English (English being her first language and all). She was smart. She was creative. She had a fantastic sense of humor.
She was also the only deaf patient in the hospital. Most of the other patients and most of the staff did not sign. The hospital provided an interpreter for her only during the day, Monday through Friday. That's when most of the therapy took place. That's when patients met with their psychiatrists, their individual therapists, their case managers. That's when they had most of their group therapy sessions, too. So definitely that was when an interpreter was most needed, but really, I believe the hospital should have provided one on weekends, too. Probably they should have provided one around the clock. Maybe not at night, when she was likely to be sleeping... but what if she woke up and needed something?
Yeah, she could communicate by writing, and her English was good since it was her first language (which is not the case for many deaf people, and since ASL has very different grammar rules than English does, they may find it difficult to communicate by writing and hearing people often assume since their written English is not very good, that they are not very intelligent), but still... she probably should have had access to an interpreter around the clock.
Anyway, on the weekends, there were not as many groups or activities in the hospital, though that hospital had more stuff going on on the weekends than the last hospital I was in had on a typical weekday. One of the activities provided on the weekends was Activity Therapy, in which a recreational therapist facilitated a recreational activity like playing a board game or other game. I remember playing Apples to Apples once. I don't recall offhand what other games we played. I quit going to Activity Therapy after the experience I'm about to describe, because I decided the recreational therapist was an idiot.
So this one day, the recreational therapist (she probably had a master's degree, I'm not sure) brings this game to the group room where all the patients were waiting. Including the deaf woman. I can't remember the name of the game. It was some sort of guessing game, though. You got cards that had a word on it and had to give clues to get the other players to guess the word. Or maybe it was a phrase, not just a single word. I don't remember. I didn't stick around long enough to actually play it.
As the therapist was passing out cards and explaining how the game worked, she announced that the deaf patient couldn't play. She said that she wouldn't be able to do it. It would be too hard for her.
I immediately objected. It didn't seem like a difficult game. It seemed pretty easy. And this other patient, she was as intelligent as anyone else in the room.
No, she couldn't understand if other players were giving the clues verbally, unless someone interpreted for her. But there was a whiteboard on the wall. We could have written our clues. Or, I sign fairly fluently. I volunteered to interpret for her, which totally was not my responsibility, the hospital should have been providing an interpreter if the therapist felt she could not participate in the session without one. But since they hadn't provided one since it was a Sunday afternoon, I volunteered to do it.
The therapist was not interested in any of those suggestions, though. She just kept saying it would be too difficult. The patient, by then, was becoming uncomfortable. She started writing on her notepad, and signing to me, that it was OK, she didn't want to play the game anyway, it was all right, she didn't need me to interpret for her, she would just sit there and sketch in her notebook while everyone else played the game. Maybe that really was OK with her, I don't know. It was not OK with me, though.
I got up and left the room. I went out to the nursing station and asked my nurse how to register a complaint. She asked what I was upset about and I told her and she seemed upset, too. I said that the patient in question was perfectly intelligent enough to play this stupid game and the nurse agreed. She got me a form to write my complaint on. I'm not sure whatever came of it, if anything.
It would have been so simple to include this deaf patient in the activity. And her insurance company was paying for her to be receiving Activity Therapy on the weekend, too. But the recreational therapist was too lazy and just didn't care. And we all got that message, too, loud and clear.