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Our good intentions are imprisoning people

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Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 5:33 PM

This idea that when we’re old we get to wear purple is way too tame for the generations approaching their twilight years. When we’re old, we get to rock out till 3 a.m. to Judas Priest at a metal music festival in Germany.

At least two elderly gentlemen in Germany felt that way, according to an article sent to me by a friend (check out “elderly-men-nursing-home-wacken” on cbsnews.com). Last weekend, two men left their nursing home to join 75,000 other metal fans at the Wacken Open Air music festival.

While the article is somewhat cute, I can’t help but wonder why two seniors attending a music festival is newsworthy. Shouldn’t we all be expecting to enjoy all the things we love in life as long as we can take a breath?

This story is a perfect example of the unnecessary paternalism our society has toward seniors and people with intellectual disabilities. The title of the article sums it up: “2 elderly men sneak out of nursing home to attend heavy metal festival.” Sneak out? They wanted to go to a music festival. Why couldn’t they walk proudly out the front door?

The article goes on to explain that when the two men were located at 3 a.m., they were “disoriented and dazed” (which my friend points out is exactly the state in which you expect to be at a metal concert at 3 a.m.) and “had to be escorted home with a taxi and a patrol car as a ‘precaution.’” These two men were treated like criminals for attending a concert. If you wonder why, the only apparent explanation is that they are old.

The tale of rocking elders reminded me of a similar situation that happened closer to home a few years ago. A local resident appeared at our Community Connections office in Cortez to lodge a complaint with one of our managers. This well-intentioned but misguided person was irate that he had witnessed several people with intellectual disabilities who were “allowed” to attend an R-rated movie at the local theater.

Firstly, though Community Connections offers programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we do not own or control people. Plus, many adults and children with ID in our communities do not receive any paid supports.

Secondly, the movie-goers in question were all adults. They had the legal right to attend that movie, regardless of their abilities, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. No one in our office or at that theater had any reason to stop them.

Our good intentions are imprisoning people. In our attempts to make the world feel safer for people we deem vulnerable, we are making it a sterile, lifeless place where they have to use ninja tactics just to get to a concert.

So, I ask, what is it that you hope you’re still doing when you are older or less able than you are now? And what are you doing to ensure that no one has the power to stop you?

Tara Kiene is president and CEO of Community Connections Inc.

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