Yesterday was a lovely day. We started the day by going down to Ashbridges Bay so that I could sit in the shade and read and Joe could go for a walk on the boardwalk. We arrived and found a spot that was just off the bike bath and a few feet away from the boardwalk. It was perfect as I had a few of the volleyball courts and the lake beyond that and I was under a lovely shade tree so there was no chance of my bald head getting burned. Joe made sure I was OK and then went off for a long walk along the beach. I pulled my book out of my bag and began to read.
Every now and then I'd stop and look up at the view. There were almost naked young men and women playing volleyball and their joy of being young and in the sun could be felt all the way over where I was. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever that young, ever that carefree, but I know I was - it's just hard to remember that sometimes. But then I'd be called back by the book I'm reading. It's got an intense plot and I'm only a hundred or so pages from ending.
Then I heard five people arrive behind me. I turned to see two staff, they were obviously staff, with three women with intellectual disabilities. These women would have worn the label 'low functioning' or 'profoundly disabled' back in the days when disability was put on a gradient. One staff said to the other, "Where do you want to go?"
Failure Number One: Who cares where she wants to go? It's not her outing! You are both at work and your job is NOT to have a lovely time in a park. That's a side benefit, sure, but it's NOT the job. The job is to ensure that the three women who are with you have a nice time. It's impossible to have a nice time when you are herded along with no choice, without the dignity of even being asked where you want to go. You could tell that these two staff had stopped considering these women as communicators, as people with choices, as people who might just have a frigging preference.
As the two staff were discussing which way to go, one of the three women had noticed the volley ball play, and started, independently, to move in that direction. The staff, still discussing the direction to go, noticed her movement and pulled her back into place.
Failure Number Two: Right there one of the women indicated a preference. Communicated in the best way she knew how about where she wanted to go and what she wanted to see. Instead of noticing an act of communication, the staff - thinking that her behaviour was meaningless - pulled her back into place. Treating her like an errant child not a woman communicating choice. I wonder how many times their voices have been ignored, discounted, silenced.
They settle on a direction and pass by me heading west. I turn to watch them walk and notice that the woman who had indicated that she wanted to head over to the volleyball courts was turned and continued to look at the courts. The sun hit her eye and I saw a glint there. I put my gaze on hers and slid to see what she was staring at. She was looking at a group of young men, maybe in their twenties, playing volleyball. They were all, to a one, wearing orange shorts and nothing else. The sun had burnished their skin, their bodies were fit and strong, they played with the exuberance of young dogs casting themselves in the air.
I looked back at her and saw that she did not break gaze with these young men until she was out of view. Then she turned a trotted along behind the staff.
Failure Number Three: If it were anyone else I would have immediately understood that she was looking at those beautiful bodies. I had thought that she was attracted to the motion, to the games, to all the activity. What was I, nuts? I know better than to diminish someone's sexuality because of their disability, don't I? Of course she'd be attracted to sun and skin and sexuality. While I castigate those staff from not noticing her clear communication, I castigate myself for noticing her disability first, her humanity second.
Seconds later Joe came back and we headed off to find a place to sit together. "Tell me that you had a nice time and that something bloggish didn't happen," he said. I smiled without speaking, "OK, well leave it till tomorrow, this is a holiday."
And that's what I did.