Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Way. Way. Better

Yesterday I was doing the keynote speech at a conference in Pennsylvania. When I had arrived at the hotel for check in I noticed that there were a lot of people with intellectual disabilities there and there was an excited buzz in the lobby and conference area. I went back to my room to prepare for my speech and I began to think about the keynote. I thought about how people with disabilities might feel in a room with a guy talking, no graphics, no power point, no visuals to amplify the material. So the next morning, before giving the speech, I spoke to the organizers and told them that when I was booked I didn't realize that I'd be speaking to an audience of both people with disabilities and those who support them.

I explained about how, when I have an integrated audience, I like to give an integrated keynote wherein I use both lecture and role play all at the same time. I take some of the stories and turn them into a skit and have people with disabilities, and others if necessary, volunteer to play out roles. She thought it was a great idea and gave me the go ahead.

I was nervous because these were all untried, just thought up, role plays and skits, and though there weren't a way lot of them, there were enough to make failure a true option. But I wanted to do it, I had been encouraged to do it ... so I did.

When it came to the first role play, which was to demonstrate that people with disabilities have to walk the walk they need to walk and that we support them in that walk; we don't take the walk from them. We don't take the experience way. We don't fight battles that aren't ours to fight. I asked for three volunteers and suddenly I had 10 people with disabilities up front with me. Quick adaption is the name of the game, so it was set up.

The audience and those doing the roll plays got into what they were doing and it was so much fun. When the volunteers took a bow, the audience roared their support. Then they made their way to their seats. All but one. A woman with Williams Syndrome stood alone, a few feet to my right. She was waiting for the others to sit. When they had, she gave a short but impassioned speech.

She talked about having a disability.

She talked about difference.

She said these things without even the slightest hint of shame or apology.

She stated that neither disability nor difference gave people a right to demean her and those like her.

She stated that she should be loved and accepted for who she was.

She made it clear that she expected a world that respected her.

It was brilliant.

I went back to the keynote with a renewed passion for what I was saying. I was so eager for the next time I asked for people with disabilities to participate in the keynote ... because, simply, they made it better.





Desiree Loucks Baer said...

A few weeks ago NYSACRA hosted a one day conference on self-direction. This was the first conference of its kind hosted by NYSACRA and was really spear-headed by a group of providers who are passionate about self-direction and the challenges being imposed by NY State in the development of these services. The conference focused on an explanation of these services for providers new to this type of service as well as for agencies more experienced in providing this service. When developing the days agenda we selected a person with an intellectual disability to be the keynote for the conference, to start our day off. It was the best decision that we could have ever made. Cathy Torbitt, our keynote, articulately spoke of her journey to self-direction and how her life has opened up since living a self-directed life. She spoke of her challenges (she has a diagnosis of Prader-Willie and depression) and how she works daily with the support of her direct support professionals to manage these challenges. After her presentation she also took questions and answered each one with great thought and passion. It was a fabulous experience for everyone in the room, and the pride she felt in performing so well was worn on her face throughout the day. As stated in your blog today, it was way, way, way better.

gps said...

You know what is even more "way, way better"? That thinking about the needs of people with disabilities pushed you to create a presentation that was objectively better and more engaging for everyone. Even if there was no-one with a disability in the audience, doing an interactive presentation would have generated more excitement than a simple speech.

In the same way, thinking about diverse learners creates a better classroom environment even for those students who would do fine with a traditional pedagogy.

Streets that are wheelchair-accessible are also stroller-friendly and scooter/rollerskate/skateboard compatible.

Media which is accessible both visually and aurally improves comprehension for all populations, not just the visually or hearing impaired.

And so on.