Leo’s Letter: How It Was
A father denies the existence of his own son who has a disability. This was not unusual in the 1950s or 1960s. But when the man is legendary playwright Arthur Miller – who wrote The Crucible to spotlight scapegoating during the McCarthy era, as well as other commentaries on our society – it becomes a major story.
Until June 17, the Huntington Theatre Company will be producing Bernard Weinraub’s Fall, which views Miller through this lens. This is not the first time I have heard this story. Over a decade ago, I read an article in Vanity Fair in which actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Miller’s son-in-law, had encouraged more involvement with the son.
How far are we from the stigma that encouraged families to not acknowledge a family member and doctors to counsel families to forget about their child?
Dan Sullivan, past board President, shared a story about friends who had counseled him and his wife, Lorraine, to forget about their daughter who has a disability. Not only did they find such advice offensive, but Dan, who was a popular Baltimore Colts player, talked about his daughter Julie in a newspaper article.
These realities – the fact that families decades ago struggled with acknowledging disability in their family or were counseled to forget about them – are symptoms of the powerful bias against those with disabilities in general and those with intellectual disabilities in particular. It’s important to acknowledge the power of bias and how it results in rejection. Even today, I continue to hear from parents about the isolation that they have experienced.
Together, we should avoid denial of this reality and directly address these biases. We at The Arc encourage you and all our constituents to share stories of success where bias and rejection seem to have disappeared. Stories of inclusion should be the norm. We also will continue to publicize the everyday lives of people with disabilities as much as possible. Whether the story is about a long working career, a talent in art or music, or just about overcoming a personal challenge, such stories can help those in the broader public appreciate how typical people with disabilities are. No them, no us.
Leo V. Sarkissian