She arrived with her staff and they bustled about getting registered, getting ready. The staff, a lovely and seemingly gentle woman, pointed to a chair second row back third in saying, "This looks like a good seat." Maya, a woman with Down Syndrome, smiled and took her seat. The staff said goodbye and left. The workshop is for people with disabilities and staff or other care providers cannot attend.
Soon others began to arrive. We were meeting in Rhode Island for a workshop for people with disabilities on abuse prevetion and speaking up. Two women came in and all their actions were frenetic yet slowly paced. They conferred about everything. Finally settling on two seats off to the side they stopped, remembered who they were in the world, and looked at me to ask, "Is it OK for us to sit here?"
I'll never get used to this kind of permission asking. Never in a workshop for non-disabled participants have I been asked permission to sit.
But, I smiled and said, "You can sit where ever you want. It's your choice." They nodded a 'thanks' and then sat.
Maya stared at me, incredulous.
I didn't know why.
Others came in and several times I had to say, "You can sit where ever you want, it's your choice." Sometimes I really had to assure them, "Really, it's ok choose wherever you want."
Finally Maya looked at me with challenge in her voice and said, "You can really sit where ever you want?"
She sat for about two minutes more and then with purpose and determination on her face she stood up. She spoke outloud, talking to herself, "You like to sit up front. You can see better. You don't want to be at the back," then (and it's a beautiful then) she moved one seat over and sat.
Plopped down. Looked at me and grinned.
She was in her seat. The one she picked. The one not pointed to by staff. The one she decided on.
A tiny act of rebellion. A tiny act of assertion. A tiny act of independence.
And because of that tiny act the entire state of Rhode Island is just a little bit freer.
I get paid for this.