Recognizing Values

Susan Dearborn

Director of the Pacific Family Mediation Institute

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: I was the third party impartial in an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) mediation. And these cases come through a federal process, and then went through Keybridge Foundation with Peter Meta and they are then formed out to different places. I was involved in an issue where a young boy with a disability was involved in a social activity that was advertised to be open to all and his family felt that it was pretty legitimate for him to be involved. It turned out that the facility didn't have either the equipment or the interpreters necessary to include kids who had different kinds of disabilities. So they pursued it and they wanted the boy to have a good experience. So the parents ended up paying for what was needed. But they went back to the camp to have these parties participate in supporting it because their advertising indicated that they could do that. The owners of the facility's position were that because they didn't have the knowledge of what they needed, that they had no way of knowing that they could get it.

Well, the family responded that they've had so many experiences before that as soon as they said what was needed then the kid could go to the camp. And it was the kind of thing where I was searching for some ways of getting the language of what would be important to this child and did they all have the same goals in respect to this child and they did. It also turned on the fact that they had similar religious values behind them and their behavior was in direct contradiction with the values that they professed to hold and that were in the titles of the activity. So I felt that I was in really tender ground because I didn't want to be involved in a religious value discussion.

On the other hand I felt that somehow I needed to gently ask about these values and how they might have something to do with the conflict and the settling of this monetary dispute. I came back to that gently and a number of times, and finally, I think the camp owner said, "I think we must pay this or we can no longer advertise the camp of being of this persuasion, of holding these values," and so he would participate half and the parent then said, "I think that's really what I wanted to hear. I don't so much want the payment, as much of an acknowledgement of fact that the values were betrayed." And I think that that was one of the most moving cases that I've ever done. And it turned out that we did make some monetary adjustments because it involved a fourth party who wasn't there, the person who provided the service, who'd been waiting for 6 months. So we did end up doing both the financial settlement, but we also included the reconciliation.

Q: Had it been very contentious up until that moment?

A: It had been terribly contentious, and the language of the discussion was a disaster, so it changed tremendously in the course of the process. It started out with people who were so very different. The owners of the camp came from one hole, one socio-economic strata and were barely hanging on and they were young. The parents were older, they were quite sophisticated, they had adopted a child with a severe handicap, and they were not only educated to deal with this kind of illness, but also philosophically educated. However both sides professed to be in some aspect of the same belief system. So it was extremely contentious. At first I did a lot of listening to see where they were both coming from, because trying to do something with my language, to interpret one party to another, needed a lot of reflection on my part. This was also true for some of my fears about how to get on the in and out of this dialogue. I felt that

I wanted to say very little about rules of conversation. I just wanted to see if by using conversation in a certain way, if I could some how bring about change.