Her pink nuzzled up against his blue. I noticed her shoes first, they were ridiculously cute. Little kid shoes have always struck me as tiny, perfect, expectations of the road yet to come. Her's were bright and her little stocking feet fit into them perfectly. She had her right arm around the back of her fathers neck, holding on tight as she looked around at the world. His left arm came underneath her, holding her to him. An ordinary sight. Father and daughter.
They were walking through the doors into the Helix, the building where the conference was being held. Others stopped to admire her, the little girl. He grinned with pride and chatted with everyone. Here her difference was noted and welcomed. Here he did not have to walk with wariness. Here it was OK to simply be father and child.
I saw them again later, with wife and son. This time Mom was carrying the child and his son was holding his hand. Mom looked tired and frazzled, he looked exhausted, the kids looked like they had spent all their parents energy and now were starting on their own. They said something to each other then Mom passed daughter to Dad and went off somewhere with the boy. Dad found a place to sit and daughter turned round in his lap to watch the endless flow of people and to wonder in the sheer sound of the place. It sounded - happy.
At one point she turned and put her arms around his neck to give him a hug. A hug just because. A hug to express it all. His eyes closed as he held her and his lips touched her cheek in a gentle kiss.
People talk about progress in attitudes towards people with disabilities by citing reforms and adaptations, services and organizations, laws and legislation. I get all that, I celebrate all that.
But a kiss is progress.
Children with disabilities are discovering something new. Past times meant institutions and hidden lives. Past times meant shame and recrimination. Past times meant barred beds and large wards.
A kiss, a gentle kiss, is more than a show of affection. A kiss is a revolutionary act of acceptance. A kiss defies intolerance and dares discrimination. A kiss claims kinship.
Learning value now, before little shoes take their first step, is the most important lesson any child, ANY child, will ever learn.