Sharisa Joy Kochmeister: Give Her Back the Right to Communicate

She is a friend, a kindred soul.

We both type to communicate, we both have other disabilities besides autism.

Sharisa Joy Kochmeister is only a few years older than me.

Image Description: text reads, “This is wrong and needs to be fixed. Sharisa needs to be heard now.” (Background is a mixture of pastel blue pink and purple blurring together framed in purple.)

Recently, she was admitted to a hospital because she was losing weight, unable to hold down any food (this is the information shared in social media).

A series of events, including accusations of abuse and Munchausen by Proxy, led the state of Colorado to declare Sharisa incompetent, stripping her of all her civil rights. I want to add that her human rights are also being violated.

I will not go into details about the accusations because first, I don’t know the details and second, Sharisa’s rights were violated independently of what might or might not have happened to her.

When Sharisa was declared incompetent, it was because – according to information given by the state agency in charge of her case – she couldn’t communicate. Never mind that there is no evidence that the social workers ever tried to understand her method of communication.

Let me explain. I am not talking for Sharisa but since we need similar accommodations and supports to be able to communicate in a way that the majority understands, I will give my input.

Sharisa can type independently. Even if she is not typing independently all the time, her ability to express herself is indisputable, based on film, school records and several public appearances. I can say this: I would have a very hard time typing anything to satisfy people’s idea of competency, especially if I had been denied the right to be with, or see people I trust and love.

I would not be able to type to satisfy people who believe I should simply get over a stressful situation, to get over a sick body, just to validate their assumptions that if I wanted to, I could force my brain to re-wire itself to conform with a neurotypical way of processing thoughts and emotions.

I would not be able to type not out of stubbornness. I would not be able to type because I need to trust the people asking me personal questions. I would not trust people who suddenly came in and disrupted my whole world, even if they claimed “good intentions”. I don’t want my world changed by anyone who did not presume my competence, and just decided what should happen to me without my input.

I think it is fair to assume that Sharisa agrees with my points. I think it is fair to assume that anyone who is concerned about the rights of disabled people, or the rights of any person for that matter, would agree with me.

There is a much bigger problem in this situation and it shows the extent of her rights being disrespected.

The state decided, after Sharisa “refused to communicate”, that her IQ was too low for her to be seen as competent.

This is outrageous. Records show that this is inaccurate. The bigger problem is, since when is it ok for social workers to decide that there is an arbitrary number that gives disabled people human rights?

Low IQ is not an excuse to strip people from their personhood.

One more thing: wasn’t Sharisa exercising self-determination when she refused to communicate with people who were, in effect, oppressing her? (anyone who demands another person to either comply or lose their rights is an oppressor).

Sharisa was kept in a hospital, sent to a nursing home, and is now in some “host home”, without any contact with people she knows, and who know her. Reportedly, there was one supervised visit with her father but the fact that she was then able to type and state her feelings was ignored.

Worse, she is still being denied a voice. She is still being denied an interpreter, someone familiar with her method of communication, someone unbiased. Sharisa needs to have access to such interpreter. She does understand how important it is for her to say what she wants to say, whatever this is. Her words matter and she can exercise her self-determination in a way that is beneficial to her, and no one else.

It has also been reported that Colorado stated that there was no money for such an interpreter. After weeks in a hospital, and a nursing home, after the money used to assure her rights were being violated, all of a sudden there is no money to give her the right to her own voice? That is not acceptable.

If social workers don’t understand her communication – and she is communicating, even in her silence – that’s the social workers problem. Many people don’t understand sign language. Would anyone say that a deaf person who signs is simply moving their hands without purpose?

Here is the bottom line: Social workers in Colorado decided that, because Sharisa “refused to communicate”, she has a low IQ. They decided that this low IQ indicates a lack of an elusive competence, that it indicates that a person is a lesser human being. They decided that she cannot understand her own feelings, that she cannot have complex thoughts and that she should not be heard in anything concerning her own life. They decided that Sharisa should not be allowed any contact with friends.

How many rights violations can you count in the previous paragraph?

I don’t, at this moment, care about accusations and justifications. I care about how Sharisa’s rights were violated so that the state could make a case against other people.

This is wrong, and it needs to be fixed.

Sharisa needs to be heard, now.


"We Cannot Stop" by Amy SequenziaAbout the Author, Amy Sequenzia


10 thoughts on “Sharisa Joy Kochmeister: Give Her Back the Right to Communicate”

  1. I have found so little interest in anyone even hearing about Sharisa.
    My heart could not be more broken.

  2. I am so upset about this situation. My sweet daughter is 26 and uses a dynavox for communication. She prefers icons, rather than typing it all out. She also,uses ASL. Sometimes though, she just cannot get it out. I cannot imagine whatnSharisa is going through. I am so troubled by this. Please continue to share this story.

  3. I don’t suppose if Stephen Hawking turned up in Colorado without his on board computer system he would be treated like that!!!

  4. Pingback: Something Rotten In The State of Colorado: Free Sharisa (Part 1) | the fool on the hill

  5. Thanks Amy, for fighting for Sharisa’s rights, You have my full support.. and I really really appreciate your efforts!

  6. I will say I don’t know the details of this case and it very well could be the state is in the wrong. But I can’t say that based on what is written here.

    1st If you are a competent adult then communication is a 2 way street and failing in finding a way to communicate with others can be a sign that someone is NOT competent to take care of themselves.

    2nd Actually in almost all the civilized world having a low IQ can make you a ward to the state. Granted the blog doesn’t state how low her IQ was determined to be but it does say it was simply because she refused to communicate. But I find it hard to believe this was the whole of the legal argument. The reason is that states actually have guideline on IQ and such. So usually a professional is called in to determine a more exact IQ verse Low, mid and High. And this is usually resulting in more then just one refusal to communicate. So more then likely if she did refuse, she did so over a period of time. This lead to the a couple of thoughts. If she is competent she should have realized how important is was to get her wish out there, but more then that to let others know she was competent. So flat out refusal might mean she didn’t really understand anything going on with her and that would mean she was not competent to care for herself. and needs someone to act on her behalf. Or maybe she was acting in a purely emotional state, but this still implies an inability to care for yourself. (if you react only in an emotional way ignoring more rational course of action who can to be a responsible adult?)

    3rd the blog also glosses over the situation itself implying it doesn’t matter. But it does especially since there is an implication that another care taker is involved and mistreated her. If she was unable to communicate and act on her own behalf to defend against this abusive care taker the state very well may have had to step and take over in a effort to protect her. People who are abuse often will want to return to the abusive situation. Normally we can’t do a heck of a lot to stop them and thus can’t protective them. Her refusal to communicate may have been a method the state used to get her into protective custody, getting her the care she needs.

    Now I am not a big fan of The State taking care of people, mostly because it does a crappy job at it. But details matter and changing her situation in a knee jerk reaction to someones civil rights being violated because they are disabled doesn’t seem the brightest idea either. So I would suggest if the writer is really impassioned about this maybe research those detail, paint a fuller picture and go that extra step further in finding out what will really help this woman and write about that.

    1. That is the most insensitive thoughtless garbage comment I’ve ever read, Iesha….. I’m assuming you don’t know a thing about Autism. Because when an Autistic person, especially one with already limited communication abilities, is put in a highly abrasive environment, their communication abilities drastically turn to shit. I’m Autistic. When shit gets bad, I can’t speak my thoughts. Or function very well at all in general. And I’m on the very mild end of the Autistic spectrum… The Autistic brain gets overloaded and stops working properly and as long as the stressful situation is present this doesn’t improve. They took away her communication device, which would’ve made things MUCH DIFFERENT as in these situations it is easier to type things out or hit a button or two. And you may say she could have written but that’s not a wise assumption either. They denied her advocacy while judging her. They are obviously not experts on Autism or things would have gone much better. Seriously your comments are entirely devoid of insigh or merit. Get off your high horse, smart ass. How rude of you!!

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