Monday, January 20, 2014

That's Nice!

"Oh, they let you have a key, that's nice."

It was just a casual chat with a stranger, over tea, at a small café nearby. It began with weather, as it always does and moved on to the 'what do you do?' conversation. I listened politely to a story, proudly told, of work, before retirement, in senior management at an investment firm. I mentioned that I worked as a director in an agency that serves people with intellectual disabilities. In the course of our chat I was asked about my hours and I said that I went in very early. "Oh they open that early?" "No, I have a key, I let myself in?" Now there was a surprise!

Apparently it was nice that 'they' let me have a key.

It's not uncommon for people to assume there is this great 'they' in my life; a 'they' who allow or disallow me to various things in my life. Let me give you some examples about how liberal and 'empowering' my 'they' are:

"Oh, they let you go out all by yourself!"

"Oh, they let you handle your own money!"

"Oh, they let you eat that?"

"Oh, they let you travel on the subway by yourself?"

Don't I just have a wonderful 'they.'

I was talking with a woman with an intellectual disability the other day about this. She was very surprised that people thought I had a 'they' too. Her parents, her friends, the people she works with always assume that what she does is approved of after multitudes of meetings have been held, dozens and dozens of forms filled out, hundreds of donuts dunked in gallons of coffees in thousands of consultations and, of course, a stamp of approval from 'they'.

For her, who has lived under the regime of 'they' it's really important for her to establish herself as the person who controls her own life, who makes her own decisions, and asks for help seldomly and only when she needs it.

For me, who transitioned from being my own 'they' to existing under the control of an assumed other 'they' ... it's a matter of maintaining ground, refusing to be seen as other than I am because I am now other.

In the café I said to the fellow I was amicably chatting with that 'I' was 'They' ... I was a Director of the agency.

He looked at me, surprised again, "You mean it's like a real job?"

"Yes," I said, watching his coffee freeze in his cup from the frost on my breath.


Liz said...

That last line is pure poetry

Kristine said...

"They" do get a lot of credit, don't they? It's never enough for someone to tell me that my hair or makeup look nice; it's always "Who does it for you?" (I do my own makeup, and someone else does my hair according to my directions... But why does any of that matter?)

And I always love the shock of a "real job." I got super awkward reactions when I was in college, and would tell people that I was a Special Education major. "Oh, is that, like, a program..?" "A program? It's a major, for people planning to teach Special Ed. I'm also minoring in ESL, so maybe I'll teach that." "Oh.... oh! Teaching!" You know that if I weren't in a wheelchair, there would be no confusion. But you also know they were imagining me in some kind of special program for special people to come to the university and color and make friendship bracelets all day.

My job lets me have keys too. Aren't they nice? ;)

Autism United said...

Sorry I am actually giggling inside, because I just love how you have written today.
It is all about you and what you do, and isn't it funny (not really) that people can't grasp that it is you and not others who do for you.

wheeliecrone said...

Dave, how nice. "They" are international! Here in Australia, I sat in a wheelchair and "they" immediately materialised!
People often want to know where my carer is. They really don't believe me when I say that I don't have a carer. They have difficulty believing that I am simply permitted to live my life.

Susan said...

Touche to the max...

But I feel so badly for the people who deserve as much respect as you, but don't have the director card to pull out in a situation like this one...

B. said...

Yes, I also had a bit of a chuckle because once again I recognize your subject, Dave. I also got 'it's nice that you (me) go out to work. It gets you out of the house.' There's an optional 'dear' added in there at times.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, I've been following your blog for awhile and admire it greatly. This is my first comment.
As a person with a disability, sadly the encounter you describe does not surprise me as I'm a working person and have had many similar encounters. However, the presence of mind and wit with which you handled your experience delights me:)! If only I had such self control and gift for articulation. What I find even sadder than such exchanges is that I encounter them and the attitudes they reflect in my own work place, which prides itself as unique in being fully inclusive of people with disabilities in the work place.
If they could only see themselves more clearly, the world would be a much better place for all. Please keep up the good work on bringing light onto these types of issues. Thank you for the work you do.

Anonymous said...

I want to say UNBELIEVABLE to express how this story slaps round the face. But it’s totally believable. And it stinks that it is.

Ron Arnold said...

Truth be told though . . . there is no 'they'. You can always trace it back to a single person who's made a decision or who has taken a position on a matter. Sure - there may be a bunch of folks in agreement with that decision or position, but 'they' are also individuals. There really is no faceless 'they.'

Knowing that is very empowering.

Anonymous said...

I've just taken delivery of a one cup tea maker,in the hold it'll enable me to make my own drinks,and in the Health and Safety section it says
-This appliance is not intended for use by persons with reduced physical,sensory or mental capacities....unless they have been given supervision or instruction by A PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR SAFETY.

Because its not concievable that a disabled adult might be responsible for their own safety like other adults are..

Obviously companys have to add disclaimers legally,but the choice of wording is telling about how we are seen by wider society.

Tara said...

Thank you for this, Dave. Thank you for bringing awareness to this issue for me, as a mom. I can see, even now, how tempting it will be for my husband and I and our typical children to become the "they" for our sons with intellectual disabilities as they enter adulthood.
I so appreciate you blog for all you teach me. Keep it up!

Jayne wales said...

Whenever anyone says they say or do in our house we always say " who are they" because they have so much power in all sorts of ways don't they?
They say whether you should be this shape, that shape, eat, live, work, feel good or feel bad etc etc. so just check out why they might have a vested interest in being they!!
They say what's a good address, a good car, a good life, great relationships, how to feed your dog and whether you should breathe fast or slow or sometimes at all.
They get on my pip!