"You know what my staff told me about you?" She was laughing as she spoke. We were about to begin an session for self advocates about abuse, and rights, and voice. Several people were yet to arrive so we began chatting and laughing and generally 'forming group.' I like these informal times when we are all just 'waiting'. The group knew each other fairly well and there was a raft of hello's when someone new came into the room. We fell to chatting just about the stuff that people chat about in situations like this. I've often been asked, 'What do you talk to them about?' when I've been seen relaxing and chatting with others who have intellectual disabilities. "Um, stuff," I say. I don't tell them that sometimes we joke about non-disabled people, and I never start the joking - trust me - but sometimes we do. They ask if I ever really want to run someone over who just doesn't get it. I tell them I haven't ever done it but I often want to. Anyways ... she was beginning a conversation.
"My staff told me that the first time they saw you speak, you weren't in a wheelchair, that they thought you were the building janitor! Then you got up and they were surprised that you were a really good speaker." She laughed. I laughed. I told her that I was once introduced to a big audience in England by someone who said, "Dave has never let success go to his clothes." We laughed some more. Someone else joined in saying, "They just never get it do they?" I asked her what she meant, "They never get that you can't tell a book by it's cover," she paused, "they always say that, but the always do that."
A woman listening in to the conversation spoke up, "Yeah, when you have a disability, they see the cover and think they know the book."
And THIS was the group that I was expected to teach!!