Caregivers or Keepers?

Many people with disabilities depend on caregivers in various essential areas of their lives. At their best caregiving relationships meet the needs of both the giver and receiver of care. The story of “Aunt Dot” in Rock Hill, South Carolina provides a powerful demonstration of the dedication of many caregivers. Her young niece, who had cerebral palsy and was cognitively impaired, had gone to live with Dot for awhile, so her niece could access a better school program. Decades later in 2008, her then 65-year-old niece was still living with  Aunt Dot, when an intruder broke into their home. Her niece was raped and killed, and 86-year-old Aunt Dot was beaten and stabbed and stabbed trying to defend her. Dot lived for another 6 months, and her only regret was that she couldn’t protect her niece. (see icad for more on this case).

Two stories in yesterday’s news illustrate the other extreme. A front-page investigative report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer tells the story of a woman living in a Washington residential facility for people with developmental disabilities who was raped and impregnated by a nursing assistant.  WFFA.com in Dallas provides security video of a school bus driver choking a student with developmental disabilities. 

Such cases are not rare. Some caregivers are candidates for sainthood, some are genuine monsters. Both of the extremes perpetuate stereotypes. Most are probably pretty ordinary people. Our stereotypes of caregivers interact strongly with our stereotypes of people with disabilities, particularly of those who depend on caregivers. What is clear is that understanding the lives of people with disabilities requires understanding their relationships with other people in their lives, and for many people with disabilities, relationships with caregivers are an important part of their lives, for better or for worse.

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