Finishing the lecture in Connecticut on Thursday, I got in the car - relieved. I had spoken at a conference of nurses, they are universally regarded as a 'good audience', and I was done a nearly month long tour. I'd been in 5 time zones, over 20 hotel rooms and 12 cities. I'd had my wheelchair stolen and recovered, I'd had my footrests disappear and then be restored, I'd made it. It was then that Joe told me, minutes after beginning the 8 hour drive home, that he'd made a mistake, that I had one more gig - on Saturday at a self advocate conference.
The next few minutes weren't pretty. I wasn't very nice. I flipped. I had marked this conference in Bristol as the end of work and the beginning of home time. The idea of being home late Thursday and then driving Friday up to overnight before a Saturday gig was just too much for me. I was angry. Pouty. Perhaps a wee bit childish. And I said some not very nice things to Joe. It wasn't that I didn't want to do the work, it was that the work took my by surprise. I'd had an idyllic weekend planned. Part of that plan wasn't giving a lecture.
Friday I found myself at my office at Vita, catching up on emails, answering phone messages, doing stuff that needed to be done. I had resigned myself to the trip up to Port Elgin and when Joe came for me at 2:30 to begin the drive, I could see that he was really tired too. We decided that we would simply enjoy the fall colours. I'm sure he did, about twenty minutes into the drive I was snoring softly beside him. We arrived at a fairly unique venue, it was a CAW (Canadian Auto Workers) Family Training Center just south of Port Elgin. The facility was built with disability in mind and the whole thing was incredibly accessible.
I sat in the car while Joe registered and chatted with the Self Advocate chair of the event, JP, an affable guy with Williams Syndrome. He told me about the conference, about his role in it, about his hopes for the day. Joe came out with our key and we were off to our room. Every door entering the complex is fitted with a wheelchair button to open the door, every button works. Just as we were getting to our room a guy with Down Syndrome carrying a mucky huge florescent pink stuffed dog passed us in the hallway. He nodded greeting and was on his way.
I was getting into the spirit of it.
At breakfast the next morning the cafeteria slowly began to fill with people with disabilities of all stripes. There were cheerful greetings as people talked about the party the night before and the day yet to come. There was such a nice spirit in the air. I was thrilled to be part of that. As I've spoken at several such self advocate conferences, many people with disabilities stopped to greet me and wish me well on my talk that morning.
At 9:00 we, an audience of over 100 self advocates and myself, were hard at it. Doing a keynote for people with disabilities is quite different from doing a keynote for those without disabilities. It's both much more fun and much more work at the same time. There were moments of pure joy and laughter and the time flew by.
We ended with the chant: We take care of ourselves, we take care of each other.
That's the goal.
That's the intention.
That's the point.