Confession: I found it, oddly, very difficult to write about my feet, the shoes, and my need for help getting dressed.
I thought about why this might be, after all I write about a lot of personal things here, and decided that it's probably because I mostly write about the social aspects of disability, not the physical aspects. And when I do write about the physical aspects, it's mostly about accessibility in terms of grab bars and tall toilets - discussing locations more than limitations. So, as I wrote about my feet, the shoes and the help I need, I felt kind of exposed. The discomfort that I experienced had me shifting around bits and pieces of furniture that's stored in my memory and I remembered something. Something long forgotten, now incredibly vivid.
Long before I became disabled and maybe a couple years before Joe started travelling with me full time, I was making a trip on my own to give both a keynote and a workshop at a small regional conference. A day or two before I had fallen and had really hurt my back. I was having trouble with getting my right foot dressed - sock AND shoe were a problem. I managed, but painfully, to do so. Joe and I talked about maybe me cancelling my flight and the gig because, without him there, I might not be able to get dressed in the morning. It was a chance.
In the end I decided not to cancel and to make the trip. I joked to Joe about how lucky I was to work in the disability field. If I can't get either my sock or my shoe on, I'd simply ask someone to help me. The organising committee all were direct care workers and they all seemed incredibly caring and wonderful to deal with. Surely one of them would be OK with helping. All my life I've lived with naivete as a lodger in the part of my brain that forms my world view.
So, I landed and was met by a group of three people. We shook hands, they all told me how excited they were that I was there and that they were going to hear me present. Lovely. Really lovely. On the car ride from the airport I mentioned that I had hurt my back and had briefly considered cancelling. I have learned, from experience, that you only mention this kind of thing once there. Then I remarked that I might need help in the morning if I couldn't get either my sock or my shoe on.
Suddenly the atmosphere changed in the car.
I made a mistake.
It was a really, really, really, and I should say REALLY, big deal.
Then I began to sputter that most probably it would all be OK in the morning. And it was. As I walked from breakfast to the lecture hall with the one fellow who was on the committee he confessed to me that he'd had difficulty sleeping the night before because he was so anxious about having to help me in the morning if I needed it. I asked him if he'd ever assisted someone with a disability in his care with dressing, he told me he had, 'all the time.'
But this was very different for him. And, I learned, it was very different for all of them on the committee. It seemed that in helping someone with an intellectual disability they felt elevated by the job, by helping someone they saw as 'important' they felt that doing the same thing would lessen them.
I was disturbed then, and am disturbed now as I write this, that the view of intellectual disability that is the subtext of what was being said was that they were 'lesser' so that helping them dress simply emphasized the ability and the value of the helper. Helping me was different, the difference between serving and being a servant I guess. Yikes. In fact, double yikes.
All these years later, I find it very hard to ask someone for help - and I wonder if this early experience had a more profound effect on me than I might have thought.
I don't know.
But I guess this is why I write. Telling you about my new slippers, and telling you about Joe and I putting on each others shoes, shook loose something that I needed to think about. And though, this blog is now nearly done, my thinking about this has only just begun.