Sunday, August 16, 2015

Golden Girls

We noticed others notice. Several people on the other side of Yonge Street had stopped, a couple were pointing, several were waving. It took a few minutes for them to come into view and when they did, they generated the same kind of excitement around them. They were four women, wearing Team Brazil tee-shirts, all pushing very sporty wheelchairs. The stretch of the street they were on had them pushing uphill, which they all did without even a hint of effort.

Brazil has owned the Pan American Games here in Toronto this year. They took an early lead in the medal count and then never looked back. Canada came in a strong but distant second. Next year Brazil hosts the Olympic games and they have, understandably, poured money, effort and time, into training athletes for those games. It showed here. They were amazing to watch.

I don't know what sport these women played, I don't know if they played as part of a team or if they competed on an individual by individual basis, it didn't matter. What mattered was that they were here for the games, their country did incredibly well, and they were our guests in a city and a country we love. As they went by, I gave them a thumbs up, and cheered their country's performance. They didn't stop, which I didn't expect them to, but they all smiled and acknowledged the recognition.

It was awesome. I felt, even though we are people living in different parts of the world and clearly have different experiences with that world, that they represent something powerful about the disability experience. I'm not suggesting the tired 'inspiration' theme, I'm suggesting their demonstration that their mastery of skill and athleticism is a result of the increasing range of choices available to people with disabilities.

Later we saw them again. This time I was following them into the mall where we do our grocery shopping. Where I turned to go to the elevator to take me down, they turned to go into a clothing store on the main level. It was funny because, though the doors have auto openers that hope, wondrously, both doors, the two sets of double doors were held open, each by one man. Each man grinning and congratulating them as they went by. I followed on their heels, I said to the first guy, "I'm clearly not the athletic type", he laughed.

Downstairs I heard several people talking about them. Now what I heard pleased me but may offend others. They were often described as "disabled athletes," and they were described that way in respectful, even awe-full, tones of voice. I don't ascribe to the "see the person not the disability" kind of crap. I prefer the "see the disability and the person" point of view. I dearly hope no one corrected the people who were excitedly talking about what they saw.

The word 'disabled' in conjunction to 'athelete' is what allows perceptions to be challenged and puts positive mental pictures into people's heads about what disability means and what it doesn't mean. It was great, no it was freaking fantastic, to hear conversation, in a public place, amongst excited strangers about disability in a positive framework. For a second it pushed out that horrid, outrageous, attitude that, "I'd rather be dead than disabled." For a second it made disability something that was part of a larger story, a story that wasn't about tragedy, a story that wasn't about charity, a story that wasn't about pity.

Those four women, I don't know if they won gold, chances are at least one of them did, but if not ... take a gold star from me. You gave me an awesome moment, in public, as a disabled man.


Anonymous said...

I always got a smile out of people when I coined the expression "differently abled".

Dave Hingsburger said...

I'm sorry anonymous but I really don't like that term. I respect your choice of words but I prefer straight up identification with who I am.

Anonymous said...

When police tell the accusers there is no basis for a charge, what sort of message should we return with? Just ignore their assessment every time and start making demands?

I mean.... the police are trained to make some assessments the average person is not trained for... right?

And defamation and delusion must account for some false claims the police recognise right away.... right?

In your blog do you talk about why we would persist in demanding action against the advice of police who are better trained to assess these matters? I was raised to respect police.... something is wrong with this picture.... can you talk about it in your blog?

Anonymous said...

I've noticed children and people with developmental challenges sometimes think it's funny to get a grown up in trouble. I'm sure you've seen it. It's pretty common.

So is it conceivable a malicious parent or Principal might use that element against spouse or educator with the police?

How many custody battles might have been decided based solely on a skilled manipulator coaxing some naive child into getting somebody in trouble..... because it's funny.

Or might a child cry because someone is demanding they lie to the police about a beloved teacher or parent? In divorces one parent might take a child to the police and demand the child lie.... out of spite for the other parent.

Can you discuss these scenarios in your abuse allegation blog? They seem like important issues.

As an expert, how do you suggest we deal with these types of false claim scenarios?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I am confused about your decision to dislike the term "differently abled" it communicates a difference in ability without any judgment involved.

It is a judgment neutral terms.

Disabled may sound straight up to you, but athletes with physical limitations are hardly disabled. We display exceptional skills and commitment to sport, even with different abilities we can use to our advantage.

I am athlete with physical limitations, but I can tell you I'm certainly not disabled. Well.... at least not when I put the effort in, and give it my best.

Enjoy your day.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

It takes a lot of time and energy to be an athlete, Dave.

I'm sure if you wanted to spend your time that way, with your determination, you'd be awesome.

But time has to come from somewhere, and professional sports may not be everyone's choice.

Me, I do the minimum I can get away with daily, and spend my time writing - which is what I really want to do with it. The brain doesn't allow both!

Andrea S. said...

Excuse me, Anonymous, but being disabled and having exceptional skills ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE CONCEPTS.

Being disabled and having exceptional commitment, whether to sports or anything else, ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE CONCEPTS.

I am deaf. I have attention deficit disorder. I am an outstanding writer. THESE ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE CONCEPTS. Me being a great writer does not magically make me able to hear and nor does it magically give me executive functioning skills. Conversely, me being a person with MULTIPLE disabilities does not make me any less talented as a writer.

I'm not going to stop you from calling yourself "differently abled" if that's what you prefer for your own personal self identification. But I resent your implication that being "disabled" is inherently a bad thing that a person should want to disclaim from their identity.

Rather than giving in to the negative stereotypes that society has put upon our disabilities, I prefer to EDUCATE people about what it REALLY means to be disabled. What it really means is to have certain limitations in certain specific areas that mean we may need to use our many OTHER talents, ideally in combination with various kinds of assistive technology and a more universally designed environment, to compensate for or work around the specific areas of limitation we have. Sure, it may seem easier to just let people continue believing that being disabled is bad, or that being disabled means being completely helpless and incompetent in every single possible area of functioning that exists, and just find some other term that asserts your skills without directly confronting the prejudices of society. Each person needs to make their own choices for what battles they want to fight, and if that's not the battle you choose then so be it. Me, I'd rather claim the identity of "person with disabilities" or "disabled person" and then educate people about why they are wrong when they come to insulting or demeaning conclusions about what these terms or identities mean.

I am not offended by your choice of "differently abled" as a label for yourself. I'm offended by your assumptions about what it means to be "disabled" or what it means when others choose that label for ourselves.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Like Andrea I prefer to use the term 'disabled' in reference to myself as it gives me an opportunity to demonstrate that, for me, having a disability is not inherently shameful, it doesn't need to hide behind euphamisms. I am a disabled man, I am a man with a disability, however it's said using that word has become a source of pride and I proudly claim membership in the community of people with disabilities. I do not believe I am differently abled, I have the same kinds of abilities as other people do. If I could fly, or see through walls, I'd be differently abled - but I can't. I don't want to claim exceptionality when there isn't one and I don't want to deny membership in the disability community when it exists. Even so, I make no arguement with how people choose to identify. If I don't like a term, I don't use it. If I'm asked why, as I was in this case, I explain.

Anonymous said...

When you look at the crap on the small screen some days.... I think we all prefer the Golden Girls.

Thanks, Dave. You're a hoot.