Monday, March 18, 2013
All Growed Up
I am an adult man.
Yes, I use a wheelchair.
But I am an adult man.
For reasons I'm still deciding if I want to share publicly, Joe and I did not march in the Saint Patrick's Day parade with the contingent of staff and members from Vita. Instead we left in time to get over to Yonge Street and watch the parade go by. We found a patch of sidewalk that was lit by the sun and settled in to enjoy the parade. The day was cold but the sun was warm and we had a great view.
People streamed by on floats and in bands and behind banners. I have enjoyed parades ever since I was a kid. I remember once at the Calgary Stampede, in 1965, running out and shaking Walt Disney's hand as he went by in an open convertible. That day is still stamped in my memory and ever since I've loved parades. This parade didn't have a Walt Disney but it did have leprechauns and shamrocks and firefighters so it was just as much fun.
The kids who were sitting beside us were having a great time. There was a cute baby girl in a bright pick toque who every now and then would randomly wave and then giggle with delight. It was great watching them have fun.
But one thing wasn't so great.
Several times over the course of the parade, various people on floats or marching by would point at me and then purposely wave. I hate being singled out like that. I hate being reminded about how visible I am. I hate the sudden and complete loss of anonymity. But even move, I was disturbed to notice that this was done to me and the kids around me. It wasn't done to any of the other adults who lined the streets in my area.
The kids were delighted at the gesture. They all delightedly waved back.
Not so much.
I didn't know how to respond. I didn't want to be rude. So I waved back the tiniest wave I could imagine. To their credit I could see that several of those who waved at me saw my embarrassment and their exaggerated smiles, great for kiddies, changed to looks of apology fairly quickly. One fellow looked shocked as he realised, from my reaction, that he was waving and grinning at an adult man who he'd just embarrassed - I've guessing he'll never make that mistake again.
One of the most profound struggles that we, as disabled people have (and this is particularly true for those with intellectual disabilities) is the fight for adulthood. The recognition of, and the rights accorded to, the status of 'grown ups.' Many of the people with intellectual disabilities I have known or have worked with have been desperate for adult rights, to be free of constant parenting. To be in relationships, to have jobs, to be spoken to in regular tones of voices - all things still accorded to but a few.
I remember, appropriately, being in Ireland as a guest of Down Syndrome Ireland, (whose banner you can see if you look carefully at the picture - it's just behind the Vita banner) and doing a workshop for self advocates with Down Syndrome. I made a joking reference to a young man, perhaps in his early twenties, that he was 'just a kid.' Now I want to be clear here, I wasn't making that remark because he had Down Syndrome, I was making that remark because he was in his early twenties. I think that many of the people who work in my office are 'kids' ... because I'm 60 and they are decidedly not. But, even though my intention was to joke about his age, he took great offence. He gave me a stern lecture about being a man. He wasn't a 'kid' he was a man and he wanted to be treated like an adult. I apologised immediately and sincerely. I got it.
And I got it again.
When I was waved at in the same way as an infant girl in a pink toque was waved at.
I'm an adult.
I'm a man.
And those two things matter to me.