There are moments, I recognise now, that are indications of change. Huge change. These moments are moments which mean that that which will come, will come, and when it comes nothing will be the same.
I am moving towards my fortieth anniversary of working in human services and the first time I felt that change would come was only a few years in when Joe's mom took me to Bevan, now a ghost town, and we walked together around where there used to be a 'home' for people with intellectual disability. It was closed. In that moment I realised that these places, these big permanent places, could one day be gone. That which will come, will come.
Many years later I saw a young girl with Down Syndrome walk into a school that, the day before, had been forbidden to her. The moment that she crossed the threshold I knew, somewhere deep inside me that a shift had occurred, that from henceforth we would all imagine a much different world than had ever been imagined before.
Maybe 20 years ago I was asked to create a workshop for people with disabilities on how to say 'no' ... it wasn't conceptualised then as an 'abuse prevention' workshop. It was boldly marketed, by others, not me, as a workshop on the word 'no' for people with disabilities. The fact that people with disabilities came, no, no, no, the fact that people with disabilities were allowed to come meant something. We were beginning to think about putting down the tools of control. That thought can only be new once, the next day, it was a thought that was moving from idea to action.
On my 25th anniversary in human service I was teaching that self same workshop and when doing it, a woman with a disability asserted herself, told me that I was teaching it wrongly and that I needed to give more of it over to the people who came. Her voice, raised in protest, was a new voice, one that I knew I'd hear again and again and again.
There are many, many of these moments over time.
I had one a couple days ago.
I was attending a training, the self same training I've spoken about already, being given by people with disabilities. People with disabilities teaching people with disabilities about saying no and assertion and abuse prevention. SHIFT. But wait, that's not what I wanted to write about. The training was being filmed and the camera guy was getting things set up. A young woman named Stephanie, who was seated right in front of where I was seated, called over to a support staff named Donna. When Donna got there Stephanie said, "I'm a little nervous because of the camera. What I want to do is give you a signal if I need encouragement. If I put my hair behind my ears, it means I need you to let me know it's going OK." Donna said that she would do as asked.
SHIFT ... and maybe the biggest SHIFT yet. Direct Support Staff giving Directed Support. Stephanie knew what she wanted and needed and she instructed her staff on how best to help her. SHIFT
I had tears in my eyes.
We've been heading towards this all along haven't we. There is a direct line between the closure of institutions to this moment. A direct line that connects all these moments.
I asked Stephanie and Donna if I could write this story and I asked them if I could use their names. They said 'yes' ... and for those of you who are close readers of this blog you will find a shift, a change, in that fact itself.