The first time that I was ever recognised, in public, by someone who had seen me lecture or by someone who had studied one of my books at college was a complete shock. I don't know why it never crossed my mind that this might happen, but it didn't. For the first few times that it did, long before I had a disability, I was always alone. I'd come home and tell Joe and would be met with a 'That's nice dear.' He won't admit it now but, then, he was having trouble believing that it was happening.
One day we were in an airport somewhere. I was coming from the bathroom back to the table in the restaurant when I was stopped by someone, a fellow passenger, who wanted to tell me that they'd enjoyed the lecture I'd done a few weeks before. Inside I was saying 'damn and blast and Joe's not here again.' When she finished I said, 'Forgive me for asking this but could we do this again at my table in the restaurant, the fellow I'm travelling with doesn't believe me when I tell him this happens.' I was lucky, she thought that a fun idea. Thus Joe learned that I am occasionally recognised by people who know my work.
Over time, of course, he's been there most often when it happens and, now, people are recognising him too. i don't want to make out that this is a daily occurrence, or even weekly, or even, really, monthly. More like four or five times a year. It happens rarely enough to be quite enjoyable and often enough to have me always thinking - someone here might know me, I'd better not be an asshole.
Something happened this holiday season that turned this experience on its head a bit. You know how when something happens one way, you don't wonder why it doesn't happen another? Well, I don't anyways. So when Joe and I were heading up Yonge Street towards Bloor, on a crowded street full of holiday shoppers, I was surprised, but not shocked, to hear my name called out, "Hey, Dave, Dave Hingsburger!" Getting about, in crowds, on a power wheelchair takes concentration so I glanced around for the source of the voice. Finally, several glances later, there he was, a young fellow, standing and grinning, waiting for me to find him in the crowd.
I made my way over to him and said 'Hello.' I recognised him but didn't remember where from. He reminded me that he had been in an abuse prevention workshop that I had taught in recent months. He was in Toronto for the day to do some shopping and to catch a movie. "I didn't know you lived here," he said. I pointed over to the area where I lived and said, "Yeah, I'm just a few blocks from here." We talked a bit about the workshop, he shook my hand and he left.
That was the first.
The second was to come only a few days later. We were in the lobby of the movie theatre, carrying popcorn and pop towards 'cinema number six' when I heard my name called again. I turned carefully in the chair, no crowds to worry about here, I just didn't want to spill the popcorn. A woman, mid fifties, was smiling and waving. She too told me that she'd been at one of my workshops and that she'd had lots of fun. She reminded me of a role play that she'd been involved in and she laughed when telling the story. It was nice.
I'm not sure why I never noticed that I was always recognised by staff and care providers as a lecturer or trainer and, thought I teach or train hundreds of people with disabilities a year, that this had never happened. Except, I now remember, a woman on a plane, travelling with her staff, coming from the same conference where I'd just presented.
I suppose, and this is what pleases me, that as we move into an era of freedom, where people with disabilities actually live life independently in the community, the range of normal experience, the very definition of normal experiences is changing. I have a 'new normal' and that's expecting that people with disabilities will be 'out there' too. For many of you this isn't a 'new normal' ... but for me, at 60, it is something incredible to behold.
Because I know and remember the many years where the idea of someone with a disability, alone on a crowded street in a strange city, was unthinkable.
My world is changing.
Some of those changes unsettle me.
Some of those changes I've longed for.
I'll let you guess what category in to which these two brief meetings fell.