Wednesday, November 07, 2007


There were probably nearly 60 people with disabilities there. They came in bunches, talking, jostling for seats - a joyful noise. Many I've known for years, Larry and Micky and David and Geraldine, many were new to me, new to the organization. They were all there for the second of two self advocate workshops that I was doing, both looking at rights.

As I taught, I enjoyed the easy humour we all shared together. Everytime someone came up to participate in a role play or by reading something aloud, the whole audience erupted in applause. They encouraged each other, rewarded each other, respected each other. I knew that a lot of this came from the organizations committment to self advocacy and the emphasis that was placed on 'voice' and 'power'.

But something stirred in me as I was teaching. An emotion of incredible depth. At first I didn't know what it was or where it came from. But suddenly, without warning, I felt tears building at the corners of my eyes. I was afraid I was going to simply stop teaching and begin to cry. I held on, grabbed hold of my heart and kept on going. My notes grew blurry as I followed the script of the workshop.

You see, I realized.

Suddenly realized.

I had only known them, free.

To me they have always been free.

They had lost the stink of institution hallways.

They had lost the bowed shoulders of the captive.

And they were simply, gloriously, free.

I couldn't imagine anyone ever turning the key and locking any of them away again. They had tasted freedom, they had discovered their place, they knew not only that they deserved community but also that it was owed to them.

I was, I am, part of their heritage of freedom.

I have, we have, walked from the frontiers of bias ... to this room.

They would leave here and go home.



I suppose that's worth a tear, or two.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

I saw you speak in Saskatoon one time, in the early days after my son's diagnosis of autism.

It still hurt then, and I was scared for him, as the world can be slow to get it. But he's 12 now, and fabulous of course. The world turned out to be okay too, for the most part.(Mostly because I am a kick ass broad, and my son is a kick ass kid.)

Keep on rolling hard - our national and international communities need at least one professional with your common sense and genuine, deep in the soul love for people with disabilities.

P.S. I wouldn't change my kid for anything- he is far cooler than I could ever hope to be. I feel ridiculously grateful to get to be his mom.

Warmest Regards,from me,
My kid's biggest fan

anne said...

This entry gave me chills. I love coming here to let your perspective influence my own. Thank you.


Mieke said...

The fact is you show the happiness of these "disabled" people, and you do this is a wonderful way.

Nephesh said...

A friend of mine, Shirley, passed along your blog to me. I actually referred to one of your posts about compliance, named "Unbowed".

My son, Gabe, has Down syndrome. In his short two and half years, I've come to eagerly search out people, like you, who are passionate, open and motivated to advocate.

This post moves me to tears. It is beautiful.

You're a gifted writer and I am grateful that you're out there sharing your wisdom.

Many thanks,

Andrea said...


One of the things I value about your blog is that it gives me a cross-generational perspective on the status of people with disabilities in North America. I'm 37, so although I don't really quite consider myself "young" any more (do I count as middle age yet?), I AM still young enough that the days in which any person with nearly any degree of disability was just automatically assumed to "belong" in an institution are, from my perspective, in a different era. Part of it is that I was lucky to be born deaf, not with intellectual disabilities or mobility impairments--I think doctors were not quite as quick to suggest permanent institutionalization for deaf (or blind) children. But even if I had been born with the "wrong" disabilities, and even if doctors had tried to push institutionalization, I don't think my parents would have listened.

So by the time I got old enough to understand the concept of institutionalizations, they were already in the process of closing down. I know that, unfortunately, some are still active and, in some cases, are still really terrible, abusive places--even the ones that avoid more overt, obvious forms of abuse (like hitting and so on) may still get inside your head and twist things around in psychologically unhealthy ways. (Amanda Baggs talks about that at her blog, for example in Why it's so hard to write directly about my life and particulalry in Outposts in Our Heads. But they're fewer than they were, and the default assumption for a smaller class of people than before.

So reading posts like this one help remind me that the days in which institutions were more pervasive and nearly inescapable were not actually that long ago--if I had been just a few years older, born with a different set of disabilities than the ones I have, and born to a different family, that could have been me. And it wasn't.

Andrea (Disabilities, poverty, human rights, and other international development issues in developing countries.)