2007 — From "Idiots" to Advocacy: the changing perspectives of intellectual disability
January – March
This exhibit was originally intended to be a showing of the personal effects and important works of Gunnar Dybwad, a pioneer in the modern Special Education movement, and a founder in the civil rights movement for individuals with developmental disabilities. Like many exhibits and projects, however, the end product ended up quite different from the original idea.
One of my initial questions as I began doing some preparatory research for this exhibit was, “why was there a need for such a civil rights movement in the first place? “This research led me to the works of Dr. Burton Blatt and his exposé of the conditions in the state institutions for the developmentally disabled; the wonderful web site history, Parallels in Time, put together by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities; and to the history of Oregon’s own Fairview Training Center and our state’s dark legacy of eugenics.
There was a story here that I felt needed to be told in this exhibit. It is not an original story; I am simply retelling it from the fine research done by many others. It is not my story, and, for those individuals or families who have known others with developmental disabilities, it is important to note that it may not be their story, either. Nevertheless, it is true. It happened, and it bears telling and re-telling, lest we forget how much harm we are capable of in the name of science and good intentions.
It is also an ongoing story, as we have hoped to show in the section of the exhibit devoted to the self-advocacy movement. I believe that one of the posters sums up the movement quite succinctly. “Piss on pity. No other explanation is necessary.
I have learned much as we have prepared materials for this exhibit. I have learned, for one thing, that these posters and displays merely scratch the surface of the history of our treatment of individuals with developmental disabilities; the exhibit does not do justice at all to the current work being done by many community organizations.
I have also learned that we still lack understanding of education and treatment for those we deem retarded. In French, en retard means late or“ overdue. In this case, it seems that it is the professional community that is more worthy of the term. Perhaps the ultimate lesson to be learned is that we treat such individuals, as some much wiser than us have noted, simply as people, as people first.
~ Bryan Miyagishima
LOCATION: 2nd floor gallery
Curators: Hank Bersani and Bryan Miyagishima