I would like to warn my readers that this post contains very disturbing accounts of abuse/neglect/death of individuals with disabilities.
Today is the Disability Day of Mourning. The disabled community comes together March 1st of every year to remember individuals with disabilities who were murdered by family members or caregivers. In the disabled community, filicide refers to the death of a disabled person at the hands of a parent, relative or caregiver.
Personally, I had never heard of Disability Day of Mourning until researching ideas for blog posts. Typically, I try to stay upbeat about life and my disability in general. However, I felt compelled to highlight this Day of Mourning for several reasons. I felt it was important to give a voice to the victims who had no voice during their difficult lives. Additionally, I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that those who commit filicide against the disabled tend to receive lesser charges and lighter sentences for their crimes.
As I sat down to complete my research for this blog post, I sadly read another news story about the murder of a 14 year old girl with cerebral palsy at the hands of her caregiver. This occurred in former hometown of Milwaukee, Wi. Jada Wright had just celebrated her 14th birthday. She had cerebral palsy and was a wheelchair user. Jada had a difficult life, losing both her parents at a young age. Her aunt cared for her until her own health issues prevented her from caring for Jada.
The son of Jada’s current guardian was responsible for her death. 18 year old Christopher Ward was Jada’s personal care worker. He admitted to punching Jada in the abdomen during a tube feeding. Additionally, he neglected to call for help when he saw she had vomited, nor did he tell EMS what has occurred. Christopher Ward was arrested and charged with 2nd degree reckless homicide. Jada was in his care for less than a year.
I did a bit of research on 2nd degree reckless homicide in Wisconsin in regards to sentencing. The maximum imprisonment Christopher Ward could receive, if convicted, is 15 years with a maximum of 10 years probation. I am a bit conflicted on this. Caregiving is a high stress job, in which many teenagers are not mature or emotionally equipped enough to handle such a responsibility. So I question whether Christopher Ward should have been placed in that position. On the flip side, I do believe he needs to be held responsible for his actions.
I also have to question the system’s responsibility in Jada’s death. Who was supervising her care? Were there warning signs? I don’t know if Jada was able to verbalize to others and advocate for herself. If not, that is the job of her guardian and case worker. My mom and I were discussing this and she asked me this question, “If you were non-verbal, do you think I could get away with abusing you?” Unfortunately, my answer was yes. She agreed. The periodic visits from my IRIS consultant would not uncover marks and bruises unless they were on my face. Even more disturbing, I can’t remember the last time a doctor fully examined my body. Even if I was verbal, my abusive caregiver could possibly be accompanying me to these visits, in which I would be afraid to speak up.
I am fortunate in the fact that I have caring and compassionate caregivers. However, about 6 years ago, a caregiver failed to show up for her shift leaving me in bed alone until my mom could drive back. I am one of the lucky ones. However, I don’t fool myself into believing that this could not happen to me. Recently, I met a friend of my mom’s who describe her as “badass”. When it comes to my care and well-being, my mom does not mess around. She loves her son! However, I have to be realistic, there may come a day when my mom is unable to care for me. I already advocate for myself, but I am indeed at the mercy of the system to keep me safe.
The Disability Day of Mourning is for Jada Wright, who never got the chance to graduate from high school. Jada’s aunt described her as a “lively ball of joy”. She liked music and smiled all the time.
This day is for remembering Peter Abrahams, 97, murdered by the husband of his caregiver for refusing to give him money. Peter was a novelist, journalist, and political commentator. He was born in South Africa, but settled in Jamaica.
We remember Scott McCallum, 55, from Howard City, MI. His caregiver left him alone, unable to care for himself due to MS. He died as a result of severe bedsores and neglect. His caregiver did not call the funeral home until 2 days after his death.
For Alex Santiago, an autistic man who survived one attempt on his life when his brother locked him in a room he set on fire. Eight months later, his brother beat him with a baseball bat and stabbed him with a sword. He did not survive. He lived in Berryville, Arkansas.
This day of mourning is for Oliva Cart, whose mother shot her and her special needs brother before turning the gun on herself. Oliva, who also had special needs, died along with her mother. Although Olivia’s brother survived, he was critically injured. She was only 5 years old.
For a complete list of documented victims of filicide, click here. However, I have to warn you, it is very disturbing to read through the many cases. Every week an individual with disabilities is murdered by a relative or caregiver. Every week…
Media coverage of these murders is disappointing and in some aspects alarming. When media does report on these murders, it tends to focus on the victim’s disability and not the victim. In some cases, the media portrays the murderer as the victim, by using caregiver stress as the reason for the action. Individuals with disabilities have every right to live life to the fullest extent in a loving, safe environment. Caregivers, stressed or not, do not have the right to take a life. Disabled or abled, everyone has value.
So on this day of mourning, I remember and honor those, whose lives were taken by someone whom they trusted to care for them.