With new ideas about the lives of those with developmental disabilities impacting policies, the 110th Legislature in 1981 passed a law revising the statute that prohibited people with developmental disabilities from marrying. The new law gave a bit more freedom for marriage, but still denied anyone “impaired by reason of mental illness or mental retardation to the extent that he lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make…responsible decisions” the right to marriage.
In 2011 this statute was revised again, allowing marriage except in cases in which a person was under guardianship – in those cases, the person with a developmental disability must get the guardian’s permission.
Who and what do we value in our society? How do we determine someone’s “worth”, and whether they are deserving of help when they need it? Are all people really equal – and do we treat everyone as equally human?
People with developmental disabilities were sent to institutions because they were seen as useless or even dangerous to society. Their value in a place like Pineland rested on their potential for being trained to do menial labor – a Pineland resident could potentially get a furlough or even release from the institution if they could show that they could work.
In general, people with developmental disabilities throughout our history have been dismissed, patronized, and dehumanized. Doctors assumed that people with developmental disabilities didn’t feel pain, caretakers believed that they did not need friendships or hobbies or someone to communicate with, and society saw them as dangerous and unfit.
There were also people and moments in history that shifted our assumptions about the value of people with developmental disabilities – President Kennedy’s experience of loving his sister with disabilities led to huge policy shifts that impacted people with developmental disabilities across our country, and the brave self-advocates who organized a civil rights movement led directly to another president signing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The question must be posed, what is the value of all potential members of the community, with or without disability, to the very health and fiber of the community?