I can't describe what it felt like to be sitting there.
I really can't.
Keynote speeches have a stress all of their own. For me it involves an intense talking to that I give myself. Why did I agree to do this? What was I thinking? Is there a way to get out of here? Where are my drugs? The pressure of waiting is almost intolerable. Even all these years later, with my first keynote speech in the far distant past, I find the writing and delivering of keynotes to be, perhaps, some of the hardest work that I do. But I do it.
This was a keynote speech but there was something else happening in my mind. Something competing with the stress and the panic and the internal dialogue. I looked out over the people sitting waiting. I looked over at the organisers ensuring all was running smoothly. And I couldn't believe I was there. I couldn't believe that I'd been asked to speak at all. I couldn't believe that all these people were waiting and even wanting to hear what I had to say.
Let me explain.
Almost all, if not all, of my public speaking is to either people with disabilities or service providers funded to work with people with disabilities. This wasn't that. At all. I'd been invited by Community Homes People in Chelmsford to speak at their AGM. Not only to speak, but to keynote the day. This organisation serves people with disabilities, true, but that's not what they do. They serve people, people who live in the community, therefore they serve people with intellectual disabilities. Serving people with disabilities is a byproduct of inclusively. Yet they wanted me to address the issue of Bullying and Teasing of the tenants who had an intellectual disability. They wanted to take ACTION. They wanted it to STOP.
It's almost hard for me to believe that people, outside the disability community or the community of service providers, actually care about bullying, teasing and hateful language when the victim is a person with an intellectual disability. I was in the store the other day and saw that the R rated version of the Ted teddy bear uses the two word phrase 'f#cking ret#rd' and people around it thought it was hilarious. So, with general social approval for the public use of words that hurt people with disabilities, it was simply stunning to see an audience who didn't have to be there, and organisers who would not have been criticised for downplaying the issue ... all in the same room ready to listen and ready to take action. It seems that sometimes it's even hard to get those who are paid to care to care - and yet I looked out at kindly and expectant faces. I had to fight tears before even beginning.
On coming into the building I met a fellow with a disability who had been at a bullying and teasing workshop that I had done a year before. I was touched to see that he had a Christmas card in his hand that he had brought to give me. He wanted to thank me for the workshop and was looking forward to saying hello. He was really, really, pleased that I was going to talk about bullying and he was even more pleased that CHP had made it such a big part of the day. I was humbled by what he said to me. I was humbled by the expectation he had of me to make people think, make people change.
So I sat there.
Amazed that I was sitting there.
I had all these feelings bubbling inside of me.
One of them, distinctly, was hope.