I was asked an odd question by a student with a microphone at the local mall. He was a charming kid (I can't believe that I'm old enough to consider a 20 year old a child)and was doing some kind of project for a psychology class at university. I remembered, immediately, doing a study whereby people waiting for an experiment had a male or a female walk by and spill computer cards all over the floor. We measured who they helped and what the response time was. We all knew that women would get helped more often and more quickly but a research paper is a research paper. All that just to say that when he approached and asked to do an interview for research purposes, I said OK.
Not knowing what to expect, I followed him to a little space created by two pillars and he set his tape recorder up. He said the date and time into the tape and then asked me what I wished for in the world for Christmas as a man with a disability. The question took me aback. I didn't answer him, I asked him a question ... What is this really about? He told me that he was talking to a variety of people from different minority groups and he wanted to see if there was a 'universal' wish from people who were not part of the dominant social group (I've struggled to remember the phrase he used and can't quite get it but those three words are as close as I could come). I asked him to assure me that this wasn't some weird kind of Scientology thing and he assured me that it was not.
I asked him if I could have time. He said that I could but didn't turn off the tape. I asked him why and he said that he would just time the 'think time' later rather than try to jot it down now. As someone who loses pieces of paper I understood. I thought for a bit and then this is a summary of what I said ...
"My first response is to make some kind of joke but if I had to seriously answer the question about what I would wish for the world as a person with a disability. I'd like it if every single person was born with a ramped mind. I'd be thrilled if people were created with minds that were accessible and opinions that were malleable. Most people seem to simply spend a lifetime confirming preexisting bias' and firmly gripped belief systems - minds that were constantly able to allow in new ideas and new information would be wonderful. I think that this would benefit people with disabilities in huge ways. An accessible mind would lead to an accessible world. People would be able to see the benefits of universal design. People would understand the appropriateness of diversity in the classroom. People would suddenly 'get' the concept of 'all'. I find arriving at a business only to have stairs block my way incredibly frustrating but I find it even more upsetting to talk to someone who's mind isn't open even to idea of equity and equality. People who look at me and see 'fat' or 'crippled' or 'gay' and then only hear my words through that filter - they'd be changed. And me, too, I'd be changed. I have difficulty hearing some things too, my mind isn't open to all - and I won't even consider the arguments on the 'other' side. I'd be a bigger person and a wiser person if my mind was ramped. So my wish this Christmas is that we all wake up on Christmas morning with our mind's ramped, our hearts made accessible and our souls open - that would be a Christmas day to remember."
When I finished, he looked at me and asked if that was all, I told him that it was. He shut off the machine. I asked him what others have said. He said that he was nearly done and that everyone he'd asked had talked about attitude and prejudices, about openness and opportunity ... that I was the first person with a disability he'd asked. He said that he didn't even think to ask people with disabilities but as he saw me pushing myself in the mall he realized that he had limited his definition of diversity and that was an odd error to make. He said he would try and get another two or three people with disabilities and then he'd be nearly done.
As I began to push away he called out, "I promise to keep my mind ramped for as long as I live!"
Well it's going to be a Merry Christmas.