I had the oddest conversation. A friend was telling me about being at a conference attending a session regarding 'language, perception and prejudice.' The session was well attended and was well paced and well planned. One of the activities they did was show pictures of people taken from the web. Some were famous rock stars, some were anonymous beautiful people, some were people with both physical and or intellectual disabilities. When the pictures were shown, groups were asked to use words to describe the people in the pictures and to talk about the initial impression they had of each person depicted.
So far, so good, lots of things to learn from an activity like this.
Here's the rub, one of the pictures was of me, on my power chair, heading down the street near my home.
My friend noticed this right away and she wrote words like:
expert in abuse issues.
She then waited. Her table was the last invited to share their words. So she listened to others that described me as 'somewhat independant' and 'needing more support' and other ways of 'social-work-izing' me. Many were concerned about the quality of my care due to my weight, some might have been concerned about me being out unassisted. She sat there stunned, wondering if no one really looked at the picture. Many of those in the room either know me personally or know of me professionally. But they just didn't seem to need to look closely at the picture. Look beyond the weight and the disability to see ... well ... me.
When it came to her turn she gave her words and then she announced to the room, 'That picture is of Dave Hingsburger.' There was an outcry of disagreement. 'No, that's not him,' said some. 'Oh, my, gosh, that is him,' said others.
I laughed hearing the story and hearing myself described, not as a human being in human terms but in 'professional language' as seen from 'professional eyes.'
This lesson, learned by others, reminded me that I always had to ensure that I used my eyes to see, not categorize. My words to describe not to diagnose.
I thank my friend for having the courage to tell me this story. I am glad that my picture was used as part of a presentation on assumption and prejudice. But mostly, I was thankful for simply, a really good laugh.