It's 5:10, Tuesday night, I'm about to begin my keynote lecture for the Paradigm conference. Keynotes always make me nervous, speaking after 3:30 is the worst block of time for me, waiting all day to talk is torture. Public speaking, though I'm told is a talent I have, is not something that rests easy with me. I am a shy person at heart and the idea of all those people looking at me sometimes terrifies me. But I do it, there are things I want to say, things I think need to be said, and I intend to say them. Caving into fear, I learned early on, leads to a lifetime of darkness and hiding. No more of that for me. So I take a little pink pill that like Alice makes me 10 feet tall.
But I've been to the Paradigm conference a number of times now, keynoted most of the times that I've been there. First in Birmingham and now in it's new home in Manchester. I've come to look forward to this conference. I look forward to the atmosphere it creates, there is a radicalism in the very structure of what happens at the conference. There is a presumption of equality of all and an eagerness to hear the voices of the attendees with disabilities.
Borrowing heavily from scripture here, 'whenever two or more of you are gathered in the name of jusitice, equality, and fair play' a joyous spirit will visit with you. And it's true. There is a joy and an energy that goes without defining. It's like you get a glimpse of what we could be like. It would be to expansive to say that one can now imagine the world an inclusive place, but it would be fair to say that it is possible to get a sense of what proper service to people with disabilities could look like.
There are a thousand meaningless incidents that add up to capital M meaning. Sitting at the booktable a woman with Down Syndrome, dressed in a lovely dark suit, wanders by lost. She had obviously turned the wrong turn and headed down to the coffee area instead of to where the conference rooms were. She stopped, looked confused, and then someone asked where she was going, she was given directions, said thankyou and went on her way. No big deal. Yet a very big deal. There was no staff rushing after her, trying to find her, trying to account for her every minute, she had had the dignity of being lost and the right to depend on the kindness of a stranger who owed her nothing but regular kindness and who did not receive a salary for pointing the way.
For all these reasons, I worry about my keyonte at this conference. I always want to have a message that matters and I fiddle with it until it is done.
Well that was two days ago and it's over. How did it go. I'll never really know. But what I do know, that when you meet excellence you want to fall in line. For not only did I feel the challenge, I think everyone there did.
There were two or more of us gathered there ... and the spirit did come.