Monday, January 25, 2010

Peter Wong and disABILITY

Long time no post! I got a little lazy over the holiday break... but now that I'm back at Stonehill this blog will be in full swing again!

Anyway,I'm a political science and communication double major here at Stonehill, so I've been working pretty hard to meet those requirements... but now that I am a 2nd semester senior I have two elective spots, so I signed up for two healthcare classes taught by Professor Dahlin- HC 103 Introduction to Gerontology and HC 170 Disability? I decided to take gerontology because as some of you may know, in addition to disABILITY rights issues, I also am extremely passionate about elder issues.

But anyway, HC 170 Disability? is described as follows:

What do the words disability, handicapped and challenged really mean? In what ways am I disabled and how can I use that knowledge? What has science contributed to our challenged populations? What are the personal and societal values toward challenged populations? How have history and religion contributed to those values? Am I, are we, doing enough? Students review personal and societal fears about disability, learn to confront and change negative attitudes and values, understand medical causes, effects and treatment of a wide range of clinical disorders, and develop a belief and value system which includes positive attitudes toward the emotionally and physically challenged.

I entered into my first session of Disability? this past Thursday for a two and a half hour session, and was amazed by what I had learned. Professor Dahlin had brought in his dear, long-time friend, Peter Wong to introduce us to the subject of disABILITY.

Dahlin explained to us that over 25 years ago when Wong was a teenager, he had met him at Lakeville State Hospital. The professionals at the hospital had diagnosed Wong as profoundly developmentally disabled, and they did not expect him to live much longer. According to an article in the Boston Herald written in 1997, the hospital workers believed that, "with his condition, the result of oxygen deprivation during birth, Wong could not swallow and would probably choke to death." Dahlin, an occupational therapist, had quickly figured out that Wong was definitely not developmentally disabled. He had cerebral palsy and was tested as having an IQ measuring over 140.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke ( defines Cerebral Palsy as such:

"The term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination but don’t worsen over time. Even though cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, it isn’t caused by problems in the muscles or nerves. It is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements. The majority of children with cerebral palsy are born with it, although it may not be detected until months or years later. The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3 years of age. The most common are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy. A small number of children have cerebral palsy as the result of brain damage in the first few months or years of life, brain infections such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or head injury from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse."

Anyway, as an occupational therapist, Dahlin had spent a month with Wong, teaching him how to swallow so that he would never have to be fed with a syringe again (which was what the Lakeville State Hospital workers were doing). Dahlin and Wong had reconnected years later, when Wong was already an adult, living a successful life in an apartment in Park Square. Wong is famous in the city of Boston- not for his disABILITY, but for the cart he runs right in front of the Burberry Store (at which he frequently shops at). He started out selling beverages, but later on he and Dahlin had developed a line of hats (cleverly named HandiCaps) which proved to be a very successful business endeavor.

Wong had never let his disABILITY stop him from doing what he wanted to do. In class, he had told us that Cancun was one of his favorite vacation spots, and he had visited there frequently. He has met numerous celebrities and athletes. A picture of Wong is even displayed in the Smithsonian! Wong is very friendly and talkative, and willing to answer questions about himself. In class we all asked him questions about his favorite athletes, whether or not he was involved in disABILITY advocacy, and even what the hardest part of having a disABILITY was. He answered all of the questions thoughtfully and truthfully.

Dahlin had invited Wong to the first class of the semester since almost the very beginnings of him teaching the class. I think it was great to have him there, because any preconceived notions that anyone in the class had about disABILITIES were thrown out the window.

The question mark in the title of class is important because it emphasizes the question what does being disABLED really mean? I think that's why I named my group The disABILITY Enlightenment Project. I want to emphasize the ABILITY and pay less attention to the "dis-."

I am excited for this class and I am really glad I got the chance to meet Peter Wong.

Anyway, for all you students, don't forget! First disABILITY Enlightenment Project meeting of the semester tonight @ 9PM in Duffy 219! Be there or be square!