Disability Justice and Neurodivergent community rocks Boston Common to ‘Stop the Shock’

Stop the Shock – a coalition of more than 30 organizations in the Disability Justice and Neurodivergent community – organized a rally and press briefing at the Boston Common on Sept 9. The rally succeeded in garnering greater publicity and support for passing House H180 in the Massachusetts state legislature to outlaw the use of aversion therapy.

Some of Stop the Shock rally participants at Boston Commons, Sept. 9, 2023.
WW Photo: Brian Shea

Aversion therapy includes skin shocks, pinching, ammonia face spraying, contingent food programs (using food deprivation as punishment), long-term restraints, sensory deprivation and white noise helmets used primarily against children with disabilities. All of these methods are used at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts.  

Rotenberg is sometimes called today’s Willowbrook, after the infamous state-supported institution for children with intellectual disabilities, which was forced to close due to public outcry in 1987. Similarly, Rotenberg has been shocking disabled children with the graduated electronic decelerator for decades. Condemned as torture by the United Nations, the use of GED has been linked to the deaths of six children. 

At the rally, Rhoda Gibson, founder of the Massachusetts Chapter of ADAPT, 

gave a history of the struggle against Rotenberg. She played an audio clip of screams from Andre McCollins, a child who was tortured and shocked at Rotenberg many times, because he wouldn’t take off his coat. 

Gibson explained that 80 percent of Rotenberg’s residents are disabled children of color from New York state, where Andre’s mother, Cheryl McCollins, is leading a movement to pass “Andre’s Law” to ban sending children from New York state to Rotenberg to be shocked and tortured. 

In 2016, ADAPT organized a protest in which over 200 people, mostly wheelchair users, converged on the Rotenberg after ADAPT took over several Massachusetts trains to transport protesters to the center. This action was supported with the solidarity of many transit workers who assisted in getting folks on and off the trains.   

A book about this struggle, “Pain and Shock in America: Politics, Advocacy, and the Controversial Treatment of People with Disabilities” by Jan Nisbet, with contributions by Nancy R. Weiss, is now available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon or online (free with trial membership) at tryscribd.com. A video of this rally is available by clicking the link: tinyurl.com/5n7upa6u.

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