When Joaquin was institutionalized, all I could do was to hope and pray that he would somehow find strength within to survive the indignity of his treatment, and sorrow of being separated from his family and community. I had to believe that there were good people working with him who would serve as angels of comfort to him on the many days that we could not be with him. I did this daily. But another thing I did was to ponder the trajectory of his life many years prior.
As I searched his story in my mind, it became clear to me that my brother had not been disabled as much by his autism, as he had been disabled by societal responses to his diagnosis and his way of expressing himself and his needs. Ableist interpretations of his existence forced him into segregated classrooms, societal seclusion, and ultimately, institutionalization.
If medical professionals, educators, administrators, social workers, and community members in general, had embraced Joaquin as he was, honored his unique way of expressing his voice, empowered him to be self-determined, included him in educational and recreational settings, and taught him in a way that he could learn, he would not have been so "disabled."
In order for Joaquin's story to not be repeated, we as professionals and community members, must acknowledge the power we hold in the long-term outcomes for our family members and friends who experience disability. We must understand our role in "disabling" others. Once we understand, we can create deliberate change. We can seek out and act on dignifying and inclusive alternatives. When we do this, we can begin to empower us all.