Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Citizens

I could see she was annoyed as soon as we came in the door. The elevator was not working and she was simply standing there leaning up against a window, bitching. In front of her was an elderly woman in a manual wheelchair. Seems the young woman leaning against the window, bitching, was her assistant. Seems the young woman, bitching, didn't want to go to the Bay, didn't want to go out into the cold, didn't want to go shopping and here they were stuck because the elevator was broken down. The young, ahem, lady, bitching, was speaking loudly - letting everyone know what a burden it was to be PAID TO provide care for this elderly disabled woman. The woman sat in her chair mortified. Upset the elevator was broken down and upset that her young assistant was constantly bitching about everything. She wasn't having a good day.

The same day, an hour later ...

I couldn't get by. He, too, was in a manual wheelchair and the young woman assisting him was bent over in a position that looked uncomfortable. She was holding his wallet open. He was taking bills out, one at at time, as if they were heavy, and placing them on the counter. Done with bills, she unzipped the change pocket on the wallet and he slowly pulled out coins. The line up grew. I was simply not inconvenienced, I'm old enough to know that there truly is enough time for me to quietly let another person live in dignity. Some further back were growing restless. The woman helping him, looked up, saw the line, then said to him, loud enough for all of us to hear, 'Don't worry about the people behind you, they all understand that one day they'll need more time too.' She said it calmly but firmly. The restlessness settled down immediately.

A reflection ...

I'm often asked how we 'make community' for people with disabilities. I used to be very puzzled by this question, not knowing quite how to answer. But more recently I've been answering this question in a way that surprised even me the first time it came out of my mouth. 'We make community every time we go into the community.' Every time a care provider leaves a group home, a nursing home, a person's home, they act as models for how others should react to and with people with disabilities. I notice that people notice staff behaviour. I notice that those who are a bit thrown by someone's disability often look to the care provider for guidance and reassurance that they are doing it right.

We need to do it right.

Most agencies in Canada have, within their name, the word 'community'. This should mean something. It means that they understand that thousands upon thousands of times each day as someone is supported to access their neighbourhoods, 'community' is being taught. Each and every staff needs to understand that their role is twofold. First, and primarily, they are there to provide assistance and support. Second, and equally importantly, they are there to demonstrate what respectful interaction looks like.

Let's be honest, disability throws some people into a panic. They don't know what to say, how to say it and they are so concerned about offending that they become, and this is either odd or ironic (Shannon please help), offensive. Good staff will know how to intervene in ways that instruct without seeming instructive, support without seeming controlling. It's a tough balancing act but its important to talk about, to think about.

Those two women, while working, taught.

One taught that disability was a burden.

One taught that disability was a natural part of the human condition.

One taught exclusion and superiority.

One taught inclusion and humility.

One needed firing.

One needed hiring ... to teach ... all of us about the importance of the work. That the legacy left behind is more than a good memory of a fine time out, it's also a community that knows better ... next time round.

18 comments:

Shan said...

Yessir - ironic!

XO

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -

Once again, Dave, you have hit the nail on the head.
Every human being has the inalienable right to his or her humanity. In my opinion, anyone who disrespects another person chips away at that person's humanity. How can there be any good outcome from that?

Andrea S. said...

I think people look not only to staff but to pretty much anyone else who is already interacting with the person with disabilities.

Most of the time, when I am with a group of hearing, nonsigning people, I am left out of communication and social interaction because people don't think to include me. Even on the rare occasions when I try to explain what would help me best... they don't. In some cases they get huffy and declare it is too inconvenient for them to write down so much of what they say and I shouldn't expect so much. In other cases they don't seem to really wrap their heads around how much of the conversation I'm really missing and fail to really follow through for that reason, or perhaps because of inertia. Because of this, I rarely try to explain what I really need--I sit and stew in frustration at being cut off from group communication because I become too afraid of being seen as too "fussy" or "demanding" or "expecting too much" because this has been the reaction I've often received in the past when trying to be assertive.

But on the even rarer occasions that a hearing person not only really "gets" what I need to have genuine communication access but has the patience to write down what they say and write down a running summary of what others say, then other hearing people in the group will at least sometimes follow their example and start to write down a lot more of what they say. There are always some who still don't seem to get why I need this or why it should be worth the bother and are content to leave this task to others, but often at least one or two others will contribute to the running summary and share the task more.

coffeetalk said...

And all the people said....."AMEN"! Thanks again for bringing a lesson home, Dave.

Cole said...

It's a wonderful lesson- but how do we balance all the "ones who needs to be hired" then leaving the people they were supporting with the "one who needs to be fired". That was always the tough part for me working in the community agency setting. The good ones always were promoted up and we were left with hoards of the others....sigh...

Belinda said...

Oh WOW. What a great Parable Post. I loved it. And what a great reminder of how to be and "who" to be.

CAM said...

What are agencies doing to make sure there are less of the ones who need to be fired? Where I work there is a union and it is almost impossible to get fired. Many people have complaints against them before they even make it through probation but are still here years later because they are a body that fills a spot.
Agencies hire people that they shouldn't because they need people. There has to be a change. There has to be a way to make this work more valuable in the eyes of society so that it is not so difficult to find good people.

Anonymous said...

Dave,

Thank you so much for this. I am always trying to instill this value in our staff, reminding them how every interaction that they have with people is being watched. They are the examples.

And as an aside, could you please change the colour of the blog back. It looks lovely, but I am finding the contrast of the white on red gives me a headache.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I add my "Amen" to coffeetalk's.

Colleen

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, thanks for the feedback, I can't change it back because I deleted those changes, I will however change the colour and see if that helps. Can't do that until I'm back at my home computer.

Jason said...

Oh no! Don't change it back to black letters already. I was pleased to see the white type on the dark background because it gives me the contrast I need to read more easily. I think you made the type size bigger too, did you? I know you can't accomodate everyone. Maybe 6 months white type and six months black? Would that work. Thanks for your blog. Sorry that my first comment is about type not about content. I'm not much of a commenter on any blog.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Jason, thanks for your comment, it shows the diversity of needs of the disability community. I think your idea of 6 months on and off white type makes sense. I'm going to fiddle with the background colours though to hopefully find a colour that is easier for everyone to read. I hope people continue to give feedback. I was going to change the colour anyway for tomorrows blog in honour of the day so this works well.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite blog to date, that you have written Dave. Some get it, some don't.. It will always be a battle to get some care providers to see that every little action has a reaction, but the optimist in me believes that we are winning the battle:)
Mich

Kristin said...

I want to stand up and applaud that second assistant. She is incredible.

Anonymous said...

Purple is much better - thanks

Jessica said...

Printing this and taking it too my work place.. These posts are great Dave!

Donna said...

How true! I am winding up my career of many years at the end of this month due to the fact that I am now rolling instead of walking and my company that serves the disabled no longer finds what I do valuable enough to find a way to work for me to be able to stay as I have to be on call and can not respond to emergencies or get out to some of the houses. I am frustrated for me, but am feeling so frustrated in trying to tell the people I have worked with for years to encourage them to step out and do what they want, that now that I have challenges I can't do what I always have.

Today one of the people I told said "it's hard to be disabled, I've been doing it all my life."

I love what I do and I hope that I have at least given 1/8th of what I have recieved! It has been an amazing time!

I think of how my bosses actions here set the community for the agency that is supposed to empower people. :(

Molly said...

I love that woman already. For having the cajones to speak up like that and for having just the right words to say at just the right time.