Advocate argues for disability rights

By Faith Elder - Staff Reporter

While much has improved for the developmentally delayed, there is still work to be done, an activist said on Wednesday. 

Disability rights activist Ivanovna Smith presented The History of True Inclusion and Battles We Still Need to Fight as part of Unity Week. 

Smith is a former faculty member and is a member of the developmentally disabled community. Smith now works with the Washington Self Advocacy Movement. 

The presentation was focused on the history of the developmentally disabled community from the mid-19th century to the present. 

"It's been a long journey but there is still a lot to work on," said Smith. 

One ongoing issue is continued support for mental institutions, which have a history of patient neglect and abuse. 

"The state said, 'We're going to train these people,' but that never happened," She said. "The institutions became warehouses for people."

Smith also spoke about her time being institutionalized in Latvia, after being abandoned by her mother. 

"I spent five years in an institution for orphans with disabilities and it was miserable," she said.

Washington still has four mental institutions, built during the height of Darwinism and eugenics. 

"Eugenics is the idea of humans being superior beings and that only the fit should live," said Smith. "Eugenics is also a racist ideology, saying that Caucasians were naturally smarter."

Eugenic ideologies also led to forced sterilizations. 

"The idea was that if we don't let these people breed, then disabilities will die out," she said. "Clearly, it did not work." 

Forced sterilization remains an issue in Washington, with parents having the ability to sterilize developmentally disabled minors without the patient's consent. Parents can also petition the courts to order sterilization of non-consenting adults with developmental disabilities.  

"There was a case at Seattle Children's where a girl was sterilized without her consent," said Smith. "She will never reach puberty and the chemical used to sterilize her will stunt her growth to the size of a 7-year-old."

The disabled community has been fighting for their rights since the 1960s. Legislative victories include the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead Act. 

More recently, Washington has been taking steps toward equality. 

"Last week, Seattle's mayor signed a law against subminimum wage pay for people with disabilities," said Smith. "No one should be payed less because of their disability." 

She also hopes to see changes in education and academia, with more inclusive classes and universal design. 

"Universal design is accessible for everyone," she said. "It means rethinking how we express knowledge."

Universal design also includes utilizing technology to help students express themselves, incorporating multiple teaching styles into lessons, and accepting different demonstrations of knowledge. 

Smith said this strategy would let developmentally disabled students be part of other classes rather than a contained classroom, giving more opportunities to learn.

"People with disabilities have intelligence," she said. "We just need to find the right way to measure it."

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