We all slumped into our seats. Early morning classes are loved by no one. The professor strode in with a canister under his arm. There was a slight buzz, it wasn't excited anticipation that we were going to see a movie, it was mutual relief that we'd be able to nap for a half hour or so. We didn't nap.
The movie was about syndromes. On screen a man in a white coat holding a pointer would talk about a particular syndrome and then another man, also in a white coat, would bring into view a naked person with that particular syndrome. Then, while talking, the pointer would point to various body parts as he discussed how the syndrome evidenced itself on the body of the naked person standing, looking at the camera with terror filled eyes.
Everyone seemed to think it was part of the natural order of things, they are the exhibits, we are the exhibitors; they the objects, we the objectifiers. The film disturbed me then, it's memory disturbs me now.
And this is was I thought about on Wednesday.
Joe and I were headed over to Ryerson University where I was going to meet up with a team of people who were going to present at the Disability Studies Intensive Summer Program. We arrived, went upstairs and then found the others waiting outside the room. Once we were able to get in, several of us chatted while the techie in the group worked with someone from Ryerson to get everything up and working. We all laughed a lot as we talked. It was a good way to get over nerves.
I had the easiest part. I was only doing a few minutes introduction, putting our presentation in context, and then the others would take over. I'd come back in for the question time at the end. After I was done, I rolled back to the back of the room and watched the presentation unfold. After about a half hour of talking the podium was handed over two women with disabilities who got up to demonstrate what was done and to talk a bit about its impact.
The subject had been the research that had been done to show the Advocates Against Abuse program had be successful. The program had set out to teach people with disabilities to teach people with disabilities abuse prevention skills. It had begun about 18 months ago and in that time, people with disabilities who had been interviewed and selected for jobs as trainers, had risen to the challenge, stepping by self doubt, and become excellent trainers. The research showed that those who attended learned what was being taught, but it also showed that they related to trainers with disabilities in a different way - there comments indicated that the fact that the trainers had disabilities made them BETTER trainers.
It's been exciting work and we are now at the point of presenting about that work. A few conferences in and the call came in from Ryerson's Disability Studies Program. One of the professors there had consulted with the team on the research design and therefore was aware of what was done. So, there I sat, listening and enjoying the presentation. And then something amazing happened. Two women with disabilities got up to the front of the room and began to teach university students. Many of the student were in the Graduate Studies program, all of them took notes.
It took a while for what I was seeing with my eyes to be seen by my mind and my heart. Here, in front of me, in a university, two people with disabilities lead the discussion - they weren't the subject of discussion. Two people with disabilities demonstrated how respectful teaching was done.
I thought about those people who were forced to stand naked in front of a camera, those who suffered the indignity of a pointer pointing at their bodies, those who looked at us beyond the camera with eyes that asked how we could sit and watch their abuse with academic calm. Nothing will ever apoligize enough to those men and women. But the moment that two self advocates got up in a university class to direct learning, to deliver content, to speak as experts, it was clear that something huge had happened.
The voice that had been denied those on film, spoke out loudly and clearly now. I imagine, because it comforts me to do so, those people, stripped naked and subjugated to the camera's eye, standing in the back of that room and seeing a miracle, something they wouldn't have suspected ... two women shattering the every myth that had made it possible for them to be at the end of the pointer.
It was a big day.