Part 4: The Clash of Design and Actual Engagement in Advocacy
Although we use the System As Designed (SAD) (irony intended) as a context for our advocacy, anyone who advocates quickly understands that the relationship between SAD and System As Engaged (SAE) is, shall we say, dysfunctional. It is always important to remember that the conflict between SAD and SAE is built into the way we plan and implement all designed systems, not just those that obviously impinge on the lives and possibilities of the disability community.
The experience of reality is different for a person working from outside the SAE than it is for a person working on the inside of the SAE , not unlike the difference between your experience of your self and the experience of another person of your self. Inside the SAE for example, student rights to an FAPE are a set of constraints that are part of a large universe of constraints, including scarce funding and the competition between special education funding and all other financial aspects of the school district, political competition and conflict over everything of value in the district, the impact of personal relationships on decisions, labor agreements, local electoral politics, national views of education as a political football-and so on.
From outside the SAE, The SAD guides the presumption of value for that same universe of meaning I described above. And these two perspectives on that universe of value are very, very different. The biggest upshot of this unavoidable reality is that any conflict over an issue of advocacy has many threads that branch out from the apparent issue into the respective perspectives of the advocate and the district insider. These perspectives are not aligned to one another. They can be made mutually coherent for resolving the advocacy issue by negotiation, but the terms of the negotiation are still very different for the two parties. For the SAE, put somewhat simply, negotiation is about the distribution of resources that the SAE sees as “theirs”, both as “owned” and as demanding allocation for the common good of the SAE, and are a part of a universe of negotiations about those resources extending well beyond the specific advocacy issue or policy. For the advocate, the negotiation is about assuring the allocation of resources sufficient to produce a FAPE and the effective continuation of the values in the disability educational rights framework.
Engagement between advocate and insider can produce better mutual understanding and make negotiation easier, but it can’t erase the pain points of the differences in perspective. This is generally true wherever SAD and SAE engage, regardless of the system (rehabilitation, healthcare, employment, community living, etc.). It is also true of for-profit corporations. The differences in perspective can be tweaked but not fundementally changed.
As I mentioned earlier, the meta-drivers of the dynamic decisions in any CAS are:
- The unavoidable uncertainty of the future, and the necessity for hedging against the unpredictable
- The universal scarcity of resources (not just money, but every kind of resource)
It is the different views of the value of the various resources and the level of risk that is assigned to uncertainties that maintains the conflict between advocate and insider. These constraints operate well beyond the kind of advocacy for disability justice I have discussed so far. I’ll carry along and expand this notion as I discuss more sophisticated and system-like forms of advocacy and social justice change.