Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Short Walk

Yesterday we went to the People In Motion show here in Toronto. It calls itself Canada's largest disability exhibit and I was there both in my role as Clinical Director at Vita as well as a person with a disability myself. We were picked up by WheelTrans and then the bus filled up with others who have disabilities, all going to the same place. We all chatted about the show, about having disabilities, about the prejudices we face, and, for a suprisingly long time about dog poo, irresponsible dog owners, tires and kitchen floors.  It was fun.

When we disembarked I realized that I'd arranged for us to get there about a half an hour before the doors openned. Most people had brought their own chairs so we scouted for a place where Joe could sit and, on finding it, sat and enjoyed a warm, early summer, morning. Bus after bus after bus dropped off people, most of whom had a disability of some kind, of those the majority used mobility devises of some kind. From cane, to walker, to chair, everyone took their place in the courtyard in front of the door.

Joe said, "Look!" I turned to see a group of construction workers, some looking like they'd recently posed for a calendar, who were coming through the, now crowded, space. They had to pick their way through and by all of us with all of our difference and all of our adaptations and all of our devises. They looked so out of place, and it looked like they felt out of place, it was actually kind of funny watching them.

Here's why it was funny. The crowd was spread over a wide area. They entered from the north heading south. Joe had called to me when they were just starting into our crowd of difference and diversity. They looked, to a one, shocked and if not horrified, nearly so. Their eyes shot all over the place. Looking at first this person in a tilt back chair and then that person in a wide walker and then that person in a military looking scooter, it was as if they couldn't take in all of the people and all of the devices and all of the challenges to their definition of humanity.

But as they went through, people moved chairs to give room, pulled walkers aside to let them pass by, most said 'hello' or chatted with them about where they were working or just smiled as they made room. It was an ordinary walk through a crowd, with people making room for people needing room. It was an ordinary social event, with people who needed to pass asking for and getting space to get by, small chats, brief greetings, nods, smiles and little acts of generosity as the pathway through was made by people who know what it is to need space and who know what it is to grant space.

By they time they were passing where we were sitting, maybe only two or three minutes in, their shock was gone, the horror had left the back shadows of their eyes, and they were easily chatting, asking and moving. People interacting with people.

Oh, they never, at least from my point of view, didn't notice the chairs and the scooters and the walkers and the canes. It's just that they noticed something else.

And that something else made all the difference in the world.

It doesn't take long for the heart to change it's mind, a short walk may be all it takes.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Evolution Stops Here

I am disappointed in myself.

In my defence I was tired.

But, I know that this is never a reason and always an excuse.

But.

I was tired.

We were driving home on a hot day. Traffic had been really, really slow. We finally got to a point where we were moving more quickly and, with the windows down, the air felt wonderful and cool. We stopped at a stop light. A handsome man in a convertible looked over toward us and spotted me, he immediately turned to his girlfriend, the both looked, she glanced away quickly, embarrassed that I had seen her, he broke into laughter.

Now, I know.

It's his behaviour that is the issue.

He has no right to pointed and purposely laugh at or ridicule another person.

But, I didn't focus on his behaviour. I looked at him. Really looked at him. At that face that I thought was handsome. I scanned for flaws. I found them. I focused on them. In my mind I called him all sorts of names because of those facial flaws, flaws not immediately evident, but clearly there. I was vicious. And I felt better.

I want to evolve past the impulse to cruelty and meanness.

I want to be the person that notices behaviour and comments on behaviour, not someone who looks for ways to hurt back.

I don't want to immediately attack.

I want my mind to be more disciplined.

I want my mind to be able to react to cruelty in ways other than cruelty.

But I'm not there yet.

Give me time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Not Up Lifting

Sometimes, even I, am astonished.

Let me tell you what happened. It will take some explaining.

We have three elevators in our apartment building. At certain times of day, the demand for them is very high. I suppose every building like it has 'rush hours' and mine is no different.

Joe and I arrived into an empty lobby, we pushed the button for the elevator and when it arrived, two people got off. Joe held the door for them and I turned my chair around. Joe is now on the elevator holding the 'open door' button. The lobby quickly filled up.

I know these elevators in relationship to my chair and other passengers. I know that the one I'm getting on will hold three passengers and me as the fourth. Since there was a crowd, I said, while I'm in position to simply back on to the elevator, "There's space for two more if anyone would like." Two people said 'Great," and got on.

Then the others, seeing my position, bolted behind me and filled up the elevator. Joe stepped off because I need his help with the elevators and clearly I wasn't getting on that one. Someone took Joe's space and the door closed with me still sitting in position to pull back on to the elevator.

I called out, "What the hell happened?" just before the door closed.

Joe said that the first two people who got on look shocked and dismayed that my space was clearly taken by those who bolted to get on. He felt for them.

I kind of don't any more.

Being shocked and dismayed by the treatment of one person by another or a group, simply isn't enough. They could have spoken up. They could have said something.

But they didn't.

I suppose it did happen fast. I was taken aback by the swift moving river of people that bolted by me for the elevator. So, maybe they were too. I don't know.

But, I'm concerned that we are becoming people who think that being concerned is enough.

Say something.

Do something.

Act up. (to borrow from a movement I really admired)

In the end, we got home. But, I think much differently now, about my home.

And wonder, do I have neighbours, or do I simply have people who live near me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Petitions, Change and the R Word.

So, again, there's an entertainer, this time a comedian, who is using vile and hateful words in a routine about people with intellectual disabilities. I saw this several weeks ago, alerted to it by someone on Facebook and when I watched it I was sickened and felt immediately hopeless. I found the petition, signed the petition, and moved on. Then I received a message asking me specifically to blog about this comedian and give my take on his routine and his use of the word. I don't write blogs on command, and I need to be clear no demand was made but I felt the pressure of the request combined with the sense that I should do something.

I have nothing new to say.

I've said it all before.

I know that he knows that the word is offensive, his defense is something akin to 'but it's comedy' and with that the suggestion that we should all just lighten up. But here's the thing, he knows. I know he knows. Ruby and Sadie knew that name calling and mocking people was wrong when they were three. So. He knows. He's making a choice. And, he's making a name for himself at the same time. I'm frustrated because I don't want my protest or our upset to advance his career and if you look him up, that's what seems to be happening.

So. He knows what he's doing. And. It's working.

Some people are so desperate for fame and fortune that they don't mind engaging in behaviour that children would be sent to the corner for. He's one of those. His vile routine is vile. He knows it, we know it and this blog ain't gonna make one bit of difference.

But, in the end, it wasn't his routine that left me feeling hopeless. I felt all sorts of things, anger, disgust and incredulity at the level of hateful ignorance spewed, but I didn't feel hopeless. What left me feeling hopeless was the audience. They were laughing. Some of them were laughing, hard.

And that, my friends, is our fault.

I took a stand against the r-word a very long time ago. I knew it as a hurtful word because of the work that I did in abuse prevention training. I've had that workshop stopped over and over again to find the audience of people with disabilities wanted to talk about bullying and they wanted name calling considered as abuse and the 'r word' as hate. They've been clear from the get go. A long while ago, in 2003 the BBC did a poll which asked people with disabilities what was the most offensive word used in relation to disability and, even then, the 'r word' was number one. So, it's been a long while the people with disabilities have identified what's considered offensive language. When a people state that certain words are hurtful and hateful, I figure the only response is to listen.

Now, back to the audience laughing.

I'm betting that every single one of them has in their social circles, those who have disabilities, those who parent people with disabilities, those who are siblings of people with disabilities, those who work with people who have disabilities ... I'll bet. Those people they know, that's us folks. That's the length and breadth of the disability community.

Why aren't we using our voice and our power? Why aren't we talking to friends and family and, everyone we can, about respectful language? Why aren't we raising our voice when strangers use hateful words within our hearing? Why aren't we making it clear that words hit, like a fist?

Let him spout his hateful routine.

Our job is to stop the laughter.

Our job is to create audiences that won't accept bigotry and hate as humour.

Our job is to speak up, speak out and speak clearly.

Yes, sign the petition.

But I worry about these damn petitions, even though I think they are important, but I worry that people will think that they've done now. Petition is signed, contribution made.

No first sign the petition and then petition others to change how they use language and change how they respond to language and change how they react to hate.

I'll tell you this, no on in my social circle would ever use the 'r word' around me. Never. Most of them wouldn't have anyway but some have learned, from me, that the word hurts and, because of that, they've stopped. We can all do that.

It'll take time.

But let's take his audience from him.

That's the most powerful thing we can do.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Always Becoming

Image description: A line drawing of a smart phone showing the scores I predict for the game this evening, Cavs 101 and Raptors 123

It's odd that people expect you to be who they think you are, all the time, without variation. Let me tell you something that happened yesterday and then go on to the bigger point. I was chatting with someone during the Raptors game and apologized, telling them that I was going to occasionally check the score of the game as we talked. We were just chatting, it wasn't a meeting or anything, and in my apology I acknowledge that I never do this, I don't like it when other people do it, but I was going to do it anyways.

The issue that arose wasn't about my rude behaviour in checking my phone for the score, it was that I was interested in the score at all. The person I was chatting with said, "But you don't like sports." I acknowledged that this was true, I don't watch sports games. "So, then you like sports now, when did that change?" I looked up at the semi angry tone, and said, "It hasn't changed, I don't like or watch sports, I just want to know what the score is. I'm keeping track." Ice came into the conversation. Again, not about my using the phone but what I was using it for. I asked, "Does it bother you that I'm keeping track of the score?" I was told, "I just didn't know you liked sports now." It was hard keeping my voice level, "I don't like sports, I don't follow them. I'm not doing this because I'm a fan of the Raptors, I'm doing it because I'm a fan of Toronto. This has the city excited, I want to join in, it's my city too, I hope they do really well." "Well, the Dave I used to know would never be interested in the score of a game."

What?

I let it go, changed the subject and, yes, stopped checking the score.

I have thought a lot recently, as I'm getting older, that I don't want to be hemmed in by how others see me and what others have come to expect of me, except for things like manners and politeness and other good things like that, and I don't want to be hemmed in by how I see myself and what I have come to expect of me. I want to continually surprise myself, with myself. I don't want to grow old and stagnant, I want to keep thinking and acting and doing and I want a lifetime of forever becoming.

So, I ran into someone who reads my blog yesterday, and I did the day before to but that's another story for another time, and after chatting for a bit, they said, "I have to say, you aren't like I expected at all." I said, "Oh, dear, I hope you aren't disappointed." The said, to my shock, "Well, I kind of am."

Oh.

What do you say to that.

They thought I'd be funnier and I'd be deeper (how can you be deep in a momentary interaction of introduction) and somehow more profound. Shit. You know in real life, I speak words that come at the moment, on the blog I write words that I think about. There's a difference.

I want to be different this time next year. I want to see the world differently. I want my heart to have been well exercised and be able to stretch to encompass more of the world. I want to have laughed more, I never want, as I have tragically seen, my laughter to rust inside me.

So if we run into each other, expect a very ordinary man, who does things in a very ordinary way and a man who loves the very extraordinary ordinariness of life. Please don't expect 'Dave' the creature that this blog implies I am.

And.

Let me check the scores of the game tonight.

Go Raptors!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

At The Intersection

Image Description: A drawing of a construction tunnel on a sidewalk with the words 'D'ANGER ZONE' written in red capital letters  inside the space created by construction materials.
We were in one of those construction tunnels. They are hell for me. They make the sidewalk so narrow, and though there is room for me on one side and you on the other, many non-disabled people, for the most part, are terrible at seeing space the same way I do, the same way many disabled people do. They get terrified faces, stop and plaster themselves against the side. None of it is necessary. If they walked normally, we'd pass with no problem. So, when Joe and I are approaching one, he says, go ahead and I'll meet you on the other side. I enter and go as quickly as I can to get through.

This time, going quickly was not an option. An elderly woman, a very small woman, was walking with a walker. She was very, very, very slow. Slow.  She would lift her walker with effort, move it ahead by a half an inch or so and then set it down and take the step. Then, she'd take a breath, and do it all over again. It was labourious and have I said, slow. I understand what it is to be rushed and what it is to be seen as in the way. I am working to become someone who learns from the life I live. It's interesting that when I listen to life's lessons almost all of them end with 'and be a bit more gentle and kind.' I'm not sure why I need this lesson over and over again, but apparently I do. So I roll behind her, leaving enough space for her not to feel me pressing down on her, and wait for an opportunity to pass.

Oh, and I can pass. Because. There's. Enough. Room. For. Two. People.

The opportunity to pass comes and I pull out and as I'm passing her I hear her voice call out to me. Not in surprise or terror at my use of space, but for my attention. I turn to her. She looks distraught. I pause. We are now blocking the pathway but, miraculously, at that moment there is she and me an Joe who was catching up to where we were. "I wonder if you could ride behind me until I'm out of this," at the word 'this' she waved her hand around indicating the construction tunnel, "people swarm past me, they frighten me, I've nearly been knocked over. I felt safe with you behind me. Would you mind?"

"No," I said.

She walked a few steps forward, there were people now, lots of them, the light had changed, approaching. I got in behind her. Those behind me were bubbling with frustration, because everyone needs to be everywhere but where they are right now. My being there kept her safe from those coming south because they were misjudging my size and creating more space. Those coming from behind couldn't get near her, couldn't flow by her, knock her over, frighten her. It was easy to feel the danger she was in, I felt their anger build up, and for the first time in my life, saw that 90% of danger was made up with anger. Being small. Being slow. And being a woman. I've noticed that woman, too, often have to fight to own space.

As I rode behind her I thought about the courage it would take for her to do what she's doing. She was clearly very aware of the 'rush' epidemic that has our nation in its grip. She would obviously know that she would be stepping, slowly, into the middle of a fast moving stream. And even so, she was there. Going where she needed to go, going at the pace which she was able to go, living the life that she had to live, knowing how she'd be seen and the dangers caused by the frustration and self importance of others.

And she was there.

In her community.

Living.

We neared the end of the tunnel. She slowly picked her way down the curb cut and suddenly we were out. She looked to me to thank me, I thanked her for her thank you, I no longer brush thank you's away, they are important words and should be acknowledged not denied.  She said that she'd felt safe for the whole rest of the way. I said that I was glad that I was able to make it safe for her. She reached out and touched my shoulder and said something terribly kind to me. The words touched me and made me cry.

We parted at the curb to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. I'd stayed beside her, partly to have our goodbye conversation but also to ensure that she was safely delivered on the other side. People were flowing like an angry river out of the tunnel and were jostling to get by us.

I left enriched.

I carry the gift of her words in my heart.

She may walk slowly, but she is a woman with deep wisdom. She may be seen as a hindrance by those rushing by. They don't see her. They see a thing in their way. They see something to get by. They see an impediment to their progress. They are wrong. She is, if anything, an amazing opportunity.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I Am A Stranger

Image Description: Drawing of a person in a wheelchair holding a sign reading 'out of order' and underneath is the caption '? answering machine'
Dear Public,

I am a stranger, not a curiosity.

Yesterday I had wheeled myself, without assistance, from a table deep in the back of the food court at a mall to the accessible washroom and from there out through the doors and into the parking lot, I was approaching our car. Now, let me be clear, I saw other people around me. I'm not sure you did, your eyes being only for me and all. I saw a young man with a baby, squirming and crying in his arms, trying to balance the child and the bags he was carrying as he made his way to his car. He walked right by you. I saw a woman, who must have had a shopping explosion, carrying bags and bags and bags of stuff, try to answer her phone as she too made her way to her car. She walked right by you too. You said nothing to them. Nothing. Not a word. But me, you head straight for me like a geek seeking missile. You stop, your eyes which had not left me since you spotted me, trying to smile at me, and in a voice used for a child who has gotten an A on his report card, you said, "And did you push yourself all the way from the mall all by yourself?" I said, which is my response now to strangers who push themselves in on my world, "I'm a stranger, why are you talking to me?" The question threw her off, "Because I care," she answered. I said, "No you don't, you are treating me like a fair ground curiosity, please leave me alone."

Here's something weird, she thought I was rude.

I am a stranger, not a curiosity.

Two days ago, arriving for a meeting, someone passing by stops me and says, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but ..." this is never a good start for a conversation. I said, "I'll answer that now, yes, I do." He didn't stop, he just treated my interjection as a meaningless interruption of  his train of thought. "No, but I'd really like to know why you don't wear shoes." I looked at him and gave him my, "I'm a stranger, why are you talking to me?" I didn't see him rushing around to women teetering on high heel shoes asking them why they wear them, or over to the older guy wearing socks and sandals (I don't care what you say, I think that's a fine look) and asking him why he's wearing those. Why is he selecting me? Well the answer is clear isn't it. "I'm just curious," he said. I said, "I think it's rude to ask strangers personal questions."

Here's something weird, he thought I was rude.

Disabled people do not exist to be education machines for the general public. We aren't like ATMs scattered about where you can push a button and then ask a wildly inappropriate and personal questions. We are people who are unknown to you. So look away and keep your questions to yourself. I don't care if you really want to know. This question answering maching is out of order for questions that are out of order.

I'm not telling you my weight.

I'm not telling you my diagnosis.

I'm not telling you the drugs I take.

I'm not telling you my life expectancy.

I'm not telling you if my penis still works.

I'm not telling you how I let it get so bad.

I'm not telling you ... shit.

I'm a stranger. I'm not a curiosity. I am out doing stuff I want to do. Let me get about it. Don't interrupt my day with questions that you would never ask anyone else.

I'm not speaking for all disabled people, some may feel differently about questions like this ... but for me, if I'm out doing something, involved in my world and in my relationships, let me be.

Apply your curiosity to something more worthy of your attention like, maybe, why you stare at and interrogate disabled people.