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Idiots becoming Lunatics

Here are the figures on certain disabilities from the Census of Nova Scotia, taken March 30, 1861, under Act of Provincial Parliament--Chap. XIV--XXIII VIC. (1862)

.............The returns of the Deaf and Dumb show nearly the same number, compared with the population, as in 1851. Some Counties return a less number than in 1851; but this may be accounted for by there being a number in the Deaf and Dumb Institution at Halifax, from the country, and all of which are included in the number from Halifax. There is 1 of this class in every 1100 of the population. In Canada in 1851, there was 1 in 1372, and in the United States 1 in 2395 of the entire population. The proportion of Deaf and Dumb in Great Britain, is 1 to 1590 of the population, in France, 1 to 1212, in Prussia, 1 to 1364, and in Switzerland, 1 to every  503. The average proportion of this class throughout the civilized world, is estimated at about 1 in 1550 of the population. 

The report of the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb for 1860, kindly furnished me by the Rev. James Cochran, M. A., the Secretary, who has always taken a deep interest in its management, shows that 42 of this unfortunate class attended the school during the year, 6 of whom belonged to Halifax, 7 were from New Brunswick, and 29 from various parts of this Province— viz.: 7 from the County of Pictou, 4 from Colchester, 4 from Annapolis, 3 from King's, 4 from Cape Breton, 2 from Queen's, and 1 each from Cumberland, Hants, Digby, Sydney, and Guysborough Counties. 

In 1851 there were 136 Blind persons returned; the present Census returns 185; showing a somewhat larger proportionate increase than that of the population. There is no means of ascertaining from the returns, how many of these 185 were born blind, or how many became so from disease or old age; it is probable that not more than one-half, if so many, were born blind. I would suggest the propriety, in taking the next Census, so to arrange the schedules that such distinctive information may be obtained. 

The number of Lunatics returned shows that this class of unfortunates, during the last decade, has increased in a greater ratio than the population. In 1851 there were 166, being only 1 in 1660 of the whole population ; while the returns for 1861 show 340, including those in the Hospital for the Insane, being 1 in 970 of the population. 

A reference to the abstract at the close of the Census report, will show the number of Lunatics belonging to the several Counties, including those in the Asylum. It is difficult to account for this disparity, otherwise than by supposing that they were not all returned in 1851. The number of Idiots does not exhibit a like proportionate increase with that of Lunatics. There were 299 Idiots returned in 1851, and 317 in the present Census. Probably some who were returned in 1851 as Idiots, are now returned as Lunatics.

That explains everything.

Lives Worth Living

There is a moving and uplifting PBS documentary Lives Worth Living which chronicles the events leading to the enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act. in 1990.  Here is a 14 minute excerpt, focusing on the politics, personalities and final outcomes.  The full DVD is expensive, but may be available at your local library.

24 years on, Nova Scotia badly needs to step up with similar Civil Rights legislation, and indeed has promised to do so.


Yesterday, I had an ice cream in Halifax's Public Garden with my friend J.  He is in his final semester as an Undergraduate, then on to a Master's program and a PhD, before entering University teaching.

I would say that J.'s success is highly likely - he's smart, articulate, pleasant and confident.  I base that assessment on 25 years experience interviewing, representing and advising thousands of candidates for Harvard.

Last time I saw J. he had a rickety and ill-fitting old wheelchair.  This time, he had a spiffy new titanium one.  It fits better, his posture is better, his health is doubtless better.  Nice wheels!  He's a wheelchair rugby athlete, so he goes everywhere by pushing.  The Garden is almost exactly a mile uphill from his apartment.

My wheelchair is the same model, so out of curiosity asked J. what his cost.


Knowing his precarious student finances, (there are no family resources) I asked J. how he was able to afford it.  It's a long and discouraging answer.

"I applied to Easter Seals, but was rejected based on my income.  I work in the library, making student IDs for something slightly better than minimum wage, maximum 15 hours/week term time.   My student health insurance has a $300 limit on durable medical equipment.  In order to get help from the Department of Community Services, I'd need to be on public assistance.  If I was on public assistance, it would be tricky to attend university and my income would be limited to $300.  But I could get an allowance of $800 or so a month and a wheelchair.  So they would end up paying $9600/yr + $4600 or $14,200.  In any case, I'm unwilling to give up my education."

"In the end, two of my buddies starting crowdfunding for me and raised about half.  It turned out Easter Seals didn't spend their entire budget, so they came through with the other half."

Let me be clear on that.  Community Services will help J. get a wheelchair, but only if they also spend an additional $9600 for support.

If you use a wheelchair, you will understand how much it matters to have a comfortable, bespoke place to park your butt 16 hours a day.  It's like having only one suit - it better be Wool, not Wal-Mart. In pursuing any career, it's wise to look your best.  In order to look your best in a wheelchair, you can't be using a $299 model from Lawton's.

The simple act of getting around shouldn't require J. to surrender his ambition.

Here's an analogy:

One of the few drawbacks of single payer medicine is that there are no bills.  In the US, the bill for a new hip is typically about $30,000.  Probably a usable figure for us.  Say 6 of J.'s wheelchairs.

Is a hip the same as a wheelchair?
  • Wheelchairs are used by people for whom walking is difficult or impossible due to illness, injury, or disability.                                                                                             -Wikipedia
  • The goals of hip replacement surgery include increasing mobility, improving the function of the hip joint, and relieving pain.                                              -National Institutes of Health
It would require serious semantic acrobatics to concoct a difference.

So there we sat eating our ice cream, the hopeful young scholar and I.  While a dozen or so seniors, recovering from hip replacement surgery in the QEII were wheeled around the Garden by loving family members.  The expense of those hips represents 72 wheelchairs.

For aging Nova Scotians joint replacement is a ritual, an entitlement.  In my building, people are always showing off scars.  For an up and coming scholar, getting a decent wheelchair is just another in a long series of hurdles.  Hips vs. wheelchairs is an arbitrary and indefensible distinction, serving only to discriminate against largely disenfranchised Nova Scotians with disabilities.

Ray Ivany:  J. is the human capital you've told us to maximize.  Got any ideas?  I do.  
  • Send Community Services back to math class.
    • Reward work, don't punish it
    • Same for ambition
  • Make doctors explain why hips and wheelchairs are different
    • When they can't, devise a mobility program  that includes both
  • Make universities negotiate realistic health insurance for students
Gus Reed