Disability Day Of Mourning

Photo of a single yellow lit candle against a plain dark background
Note: This post deals with a painful and potentially upsetting topic.

This Wednesday, March 1, 2017 will be the sixth annual Disability Day of Mourning, when we remember people with disabilities killed by family members, and urge people to re-examine how these incidents are talked about and understood. The event's principle organizer, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, (ASAN), explains:

"We hold the Day of Mourning vigils to draw attention to these injustices, to commemorate the lives of victims, and demand justice and equal protection under the law for all people with disabilities."

Specifically, what we continue to see is that when family members kill their disabled loved ones, the killers are portrayed as tragic, relatable, even sympathetic. Their crimes are recognized as illegal, but viewed as somehow "understandable," given the presumed hardships of "caring for" disabled children and adults. We also tend to learn a lot about the killers and their struggles, including hearing their direct testimonies. But we find out little about their victims, who are typically described in the most simplistic, often impersonal terms, and who of course have no voice.

The most immediate effect is often lighter sentences for these crimes, and sometimes even acquittal. More importantly, it reinforces outdated and damaging stereotypes about people with disabilities ... either that our lives are so full of misery that death is preferable, or that our needs are intense and trying enough to make otherwise ethical people resort to murder.

This is a difficult, painful, and potentially controversial thing to talk about, for obvious but also non-obvious reasons. Death is never a pleasant subject, even when it's natural or accidental. It's even worse when it is deliberate ... worse still when it is filicide, parents murdering their children. Add disability to the equation and there is almost unlimited potential for anguish, rage, misunderstanding, and deeply hurt feelings. It is vital, however that at least once a year, we confront and speak out about the darker extremes of ableism. At the very least, our fellow disabled people who aren't still with us deserve to be remembered.

Disability Day of Mourning events are held all over the United States and several other countries. The events usually center on public readings of victims' names. Virtual recognition events are also held online, on Facebook and Twitter. The Disability Day Of Mourning is organized and supported by:

Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Not Dead Yet
National Council on Independent Living
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
American Association of People with Disabilities

ASAN maintains an archive of people with disabilities killed by family members as far back as 1980. You can view this list here:

Disability Day Of Mourning Archive