Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Scene from a Workhouse

Talking about communion wafers, DH once visited X Industries, a huge factory run by a Church which shall remain nameless, providing work to people with intellectual disabilities, pressing out communion wafers being the chief of them.

At the time that Howard and co were preparing their new welfare to work schema for disabled people, and this workplace was considered to be a exemplar of the foreshadowed changes. DH was at that time working for a government department instrumental in this process and was there to interview the factory supervisor on their methods.

For the length of the interview, a young man with Down's Syndrome, sitting alone at a worktable, was wailing loudly and piteously, while being completely ignored. As DH and the supervisor left, the supervisor called out harshly to the young man, words to the effect of "Oh, stop your wailing and get on with it". Seeing DH's look she said something like, "Oh, pay no attention, he's always like that, there;s nothing wrong with him, he's just an attention seeker".

This scene has always been engraved on DH's conscience, as a metaphor for the unknowable consequences of welfare to work.

DH is right into political correctness, but not beyond reason and her own intuition. As the parent of a disabled child with strong links in the disability community, she knows that some disabled people come to us straight from hell. There is not always a good, normal person trapped in an unwieldy body, desperate to emerge, but being prevented from it by a lack of government funding. Such people can only be managed. For all DH knows, that young man was stuck in some kind of neurochemical hell, and there was actually nothing more that the workplace could have done. But all she knows is, if that was her child, she wouldnt have wanted him there for a moment to be left to wail alone. It was not an attractive place. Who knows what goes through the mind of someone with an intellectual disability, stamping out communion wafers day after day, week after week? Is it any worse, in kind, from being able-bodied and a checkout operator, or process worker? Who knows.

Just a thought.

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