In Red Bluff, yesterday, I mounted the stage. We were in a community center sort of place and though they had one of those specialty lifts for wheelchairs, it was full of stuff having become a bit of a store room, I decided to face the stairs. The hand rails were strong, the stairs were neither wide nor deep, so up I went. I made it to the top in short order feeling a bit like I'd conquered, in not a mountain, at least a self imposed limitation.
The view of an audience from the stage is very different than it is from the floor. There is this huge barrier created by space and height. While I like it that all can see, it takes a wee bit more work to create a sense of intimacy, a sense of 'it's just Dave' so that the audience will talk to me, ask me questions, make commentary on the presentation.
Even so, the crowd at Red Bluff managed to pepper the day with questions, observations, concerns and stories. Near the end of the day, a woman with a disability asked, 'Don't you ever want to have just some part of the day where you are not labled, where you are just human?"
I began to shake my head slowly as soon as I got the gist of her question. I have come to realize that I have a disability 24/7. I don't get breaks from it, nor it from me. I don't take holidays from being disabled. I don't get coffee breaks from the way I move and exist in the world. And maybe at first I wished that I could have 'eased in' to the experience ... but that's not how disability works. I wanted her to understand that I am disabled 24/7 but that I am also human for that same time period. I do not have to wish to be simply human because I already am. I do nothave to insist on personhood because it comes with the territory. It's only others who want to take that away from me - I cannot blame disability for things it doesn't do ...
All disability does is make my way of moving different.
It doesn't erase my humanity - others do that when they treat me in prejudicial ways.
It doesn't take away my personhood - others do that when the look at me and see 'chair'.
It doesn't take away my individuality - others do that when they institutionalize me in their minds.
It doesn't take away my freedom - curbs do that, building steps do that.
I cannot blame my disability for the actions of others.
There are some who treat me vastly differently, true. But I never stopped being me, they stopped being them. I refuse to take responsibility for anothers decision.
When the day was over I was sitting outside in a warm California afternoon. Predictably it was sunny. (Why do they need a weather channel) She, the woman who asked the question was standing beside me chatting for just a wee while. Then we were joined by a fellow in a wheelchair and we all talked for a short while. Other's stepped around us as they left the building. I wanted to ask her if my answer made sense but I didn't want to put her on the spot.
Just before leaving she smile, hugely, and said thanks for the lecture. I thanked her for coming and the day ended.
She went off into a world, I hope, understanding that for 24/7 it was ok to be completely and uniquely her.