Right away I knew the group was going to go with me and were prepared to learn and have fun. I know that the topics that I train on, with people with disabilities, are deadly serious: bullying and teasing; abuse prevention; rights and responsibilities. But I also know that people learn best when they are laughing, difficult topics can be broached if you bring in a sense of fun and of hope. These folks, they had both in abundance.
There are two moments that I wait for in the presentation, for different reasons. Let me tell you about one of them. It's the moment I ask the group a hard question. It's not a hard question for people with disabilities. It's a hard question, period.
Here is how the question arises, I tell the group that I get teased and bullied all the time (which is true), and then I ask them why I am teased. They were a kind group and didn't want to answer but eventually, they described my differences: I'm fat, I'm disabled. I'm in a wheelchair. I said that that list was true, I was all things, I tell them that I'm going to ask them a very hard question, here it is:
I'm fat all the time; I'm disabled all the time; I'm in a wheelchair all the time; but I'm not teased all the time. Why not? If my difference is constant, why isn't the bullying and teasing constant?
They begin with funny answers. "You are asleep in bed sometimes." "Sometimes the electricity goes out and no one can see you." But then, the work begins. They test me, to see if I just want them to guess a couple of times then I'm going to show off by giving the answer - and then they realize that, no, it's their job to figure it out.
And they took off.
They called out answers. The got close to the right answer. They got distracted and went in another direction entirely having good discussion along the way. They were enjoying having their minds work, they were enjoying being the generator of ideas and suggestions. They enjoyed playing ideas off on each other. They enjoyed side conversations about why it might be that I wasn't teased all the time. They talked about the fact that THEY weren't teased all the time and tried to figure out the difference between nonteased times and teased times.
All this went on at rapid pace. I got to sit there and listen, really listen, to them think, and reason, and figure, and joke and laugh and think again and reason again. A group of people who others think can't think and can't reason are doing just that, their words swirling around the room, their ideas slowly unwrapping the question to find the answer.
Then a woman at the back called out the answer.
The room erupted.
I didn't even have to say that she got it right. They had been on the path together. They had worked as a group, as a community, towards this. They got it, instantly when she said it.
|It was awesome.
Because they got the answer.
And in doing so, discovered just how agile their minds were.
And in learning that, learned that society has lied to them about who they were. They had intellectual disabilities, true, but that didn't mean what they'd been told - that they couldn't learn, they couldn't grow, they couldn't figure things out.
A little later, the workshop was done. I shook a lot of hands, said a lot of goodbyes, and then Joe and I were gone.
But it took a couple of hours for the echos of the room in joyous uproar to finally subside.