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The Convergence of Disability Law and Policy: Core Concepts, Ethical Communities, and the Notion of Dignity

Interview with Rud Turnbull
Produced by Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities

Confronting Law and Policy

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Rud Turnbull: There's a third area, and it begins with the notion that the law compels people to confront each other who otherwise would not confront each other. Let's begin with the Supreme Court's decision in 1954, Brown v. The Topeka Board of Education. It was the case involving race segregation in the public schools, and the Supreme Court, and is very famous for it, Honing said, separate is not equal, and then it ordered the school systems to develop with all deliberate speed a method for desegregating schools.

Years pass. The Supreme Court in another decision involving admissions to institutions of people with disabilities by their families, puts up some barriers to admission. Parents can't just bring children to an institution and admit them. It says we have to have some procedural safeguards to make sure that the admission is justified. And the barrier that the Court erected to admission leaves some children and families in their communities and then requires the communities to confront that family and that person. How shall we deal with that person and that family in our community?

Years pass and the Supreme Court, about five years ago, hands down a decision known as the Olmstead decision in which it said that the institutions must begin to close. Now there are some exceptions to that but, once you start closing the institutions, you also require communities to respond in the community to the needs of a person with a disability in the family. So Brown, Parham , Olmstead , three decisions that require people with and without disabilities to confront each other. It's a compelled confrontation. And the consequence of a compelled confrontation is, I think, this - that we begin to have to work out our relationships with each other.

And that means doing two things. It means doing what the law usually does, which is to distinguish by reason of difference. You're this, you're that. You did this, you did that. We start sorting people according to how they're different from each other.

But the law has a great power to stop sorting and to start asking people what do you have in common with each other? What are the common housing needs? What are the common health needs? What are the common educational needs? And so on and so forth. This compelled confrontation creates an opportunity for us to understand that we have to have a relationship with each other, and that relationship can be based, and should be based, on what we have in common with each other, not what we have that is different from each other.

And I want to get to this business of confrontation, compelled by the law, as a means for changing policy and our communities. How do we get to seeing the other person as being like us?

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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.