I remember it, now, very well. I was very young and an 'instructor' at a sheltered industry. At a coffee break I was sitting around with a couple other staff and we were bitching about the agency for whom we worked. 'They' didn't care about people with disabilities. 'They' had no understanding of the needs of people with disabilities. 'They' were more concerned with appearances than practices. In other words, we were having a great break.
As we sat there a young woman with a disability indicated, through non verbal means in a way unique to her, that she needed to go to the washroom. The staff whose assistance was being sought acknowledged the request but went on talking. I'm sure at that moment we all, I know I did, felt annoyed at being interupted during our break. After only a moment's pause we were back at it ... 'they' put their needs ahead of the needs of people with disabilities. Yeah that was a good one we all agreed.
I know that many of you will be tired of my yapping on and on about the WheelTrans driver who left me off in the freezing cold. But, remember, there was the story a couple days ago about the nice driver doing nice things. I need to refer to these two situations again.
Because I am still learning from them.
WheelTrans does not exist. It is an amorphous conglomeration of people - it is not a thing, it is not a person - it has no shape. Organizations are often spoken of as if they exist somehow, somewhere - but they do not. Organizations are loose federations of people - each person possessing a different face, carrying a distinct character, having a unique voice. Everyone that comes into contact with each face will see that face as the face of the organization.
In that moment that I was being dropped off in the cold, the face of the WheelTrans was that which belonged to the driver. He was WheelTrans. 'They' did not exist, he did. He was them.
In that moment where the driver was really kind to the elderly couple, the face of WheelTrans belonged to only him. He was WheelTrans. 'They' cared because 'he' cared.
As we sat, as staff, talking about 'them' we didn't realize that 'we' were 'them' to that woman who sat and waited for a basic need to be met ... waited while we bitched about an agency that didn't care. Not realizing that 'we' were 'them' to her. That the agency doesn't exist outside our actions, doesn't take form other than our form, doesn't speak other than with our voices.
At Vita, where I work, we have a pledge of support which staff say. In it we say, I am Vita, therefore Vita is me. I fully understand that now. I cannot complain about my agency when I AM my agency.
People who work in service, particularly those in direct support, often feel powerless in the organization. Yet they are often the most powerful person in the lives of those they say they serve. In that dyad, in that moment, the quality of care will be determined.
I see the look of that woman who waited to go to the washroom ... and I know now what she was thinking ...
"You don't care."
There was no 'they' involved.