The loneliness and isolation of people with intellectual disabilities outrages me. I believe that much of this is caused by the application of philosophical principles developed by non-disabled people for the betterment of the lives of disabled people. While I totally get the concepts of integration and inclusion, I also totally get the idea of 'sameness' and 'strength in numbers.' Those who's beliefs of 'total integration and no segregation' have led to people being disallowed opportuntities to be with others with disabilities have inflicted prejudice into social choice. Telling people with disabilities that people with disabilities are unworthy friends is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Let's add self hatred and self loathing to social isolation and call it a life.
(shut up Dave you've beat this drum to death)
OK, so remember yesterday I wrote about that young guy, all alone. About my breaking heart. Well, I thought about him the whole way down to Saint Chatharines. I had been booked to keynote a self advocate conference and was looking forward to just being there, being in a room of people with disabilities, being around that kind of energy and fun.
I rolled into the room a little early. I headline these gigs but Joe and I teach people with disabilites as a team. There is much to prepare. They came in, slowly at first but as the start time approached the room filled quickly with those arriving. There was such a buzz in the room as people saw friends and gathered to chat, as acquaintences were reunited, as relationships were struck up.
While talking with one of the facilitators, I noticed a woman with Down Syndrome using her cell phone to take a photo of a woman in a wheelchair. As she snapped that picture, I snapped a picture in my head. It's an image that I'm coming back to over and over again. It's an image that I'll use as an antidote for the bitter pill of isolation. There is hope. There is a way.
There were 50 people with disabilities in that room. There were 50 people with a social network. Sure they all live in that vast world outside. Sure they all live lives integrated and included, none of them want to give that up. But they all have these moments, moments when they get together to learn, to laugh, to visit. Moments were they can refuel.
At Vita there is a gay person who is not out to family or other staff. Someone who is terrified of being 'found out' ... someone who thinks that I am the bravest person alive for being out in human services. OK, I guess. Every now and then this person will pop into my office (as many people do) close the door and say, 'I just need to breath gay air for just a minute.' Then they will slip out again. The first time this was done I laughed. But I get it. In all sorts of ways.
At the conference in Saint Catherines only one of the self advocates was in a wheelchair. All the rest were your regular walkie talkies. I noticed her when she came in, she noticed me right away. When it was all over she came over to talk. I told her that it was nice to have someone else in the room in a wheelchair. She said, 'I noticed you too, right away, it's like a breath of fresh air.'
It is. It really is.
There is no freedom if there is no breeze.