Yesterday we went to the People In Motion show here in Toronto. It calls itself Canada's largest disability exhibit and I was there both in my role as Clinical Director at Vita as well as a person with a disability myself. We were picked up by WheelTrans and then the bus filled up with others who have disabilities, all going to the same place. We all chatted about the show, about having disabilities, about the prejudices we face, and, for a suprisingly long time about dog poo, irresponsible dog owners, tires and kitchen floors. It was fun.
When we disembarked I realized that I'd arranged for us to get there about a half an hour before the doors openned. Most people had brought their own chairs so we scouted for a place where Joe could sit and, on finding it, sat and enjoyed a warm, early summer, morning. Bus after bus after bus dropped off people, most of whom had a disability of some kind, of those the majority used mobility devises of some kind. From cane, to walker, to chair, everyone took their place in the courtyard in front of the door.
Joe said, "Look!" I turned to see a group of construction workers, some looking like they'd recently posed for a calendar, who were coming through the, now crowded, space. They had to pick their way through and by all of us with all of our difference and all of our adaptations and all of our devises. They looked so out of place, and it looked like they felt out of place, it was actually kind of funny watching them.
Here's why it was funny. The crowd was spread over a wide area. They entered from the north heading south. Joe had called to me when they were just starting into our crowd of difference and diversity. They looked, to a one, shocked and if not horrified, nearly so. Their eyes shot all over the place. Looking at first this person in a tilt back chair and then that person in a wide walker and then that person in a military looking scooter, it was as if they couldn't take in all of the people and all of the devices and all of the challenges to their definition of humanity.
But as they went through, people moved chairs to give room, pulled walkers aside to let them pass by, most said 'hello' or chatted with them about where they were working or just smiled as they made room. It was an ordinary walk through a crowd, with people making room for people needing room. It was an ordinary social event, with people who needed to pass asking for and getting space to get by, small chats, brief greetings, nods, smiles and little acts of generosity as the pathway through was made by people who know what it is to need space and who know what it is to grant space.
By they time they were passing where we were sitting, maybe only two or three minutes in, their shock was gone, the horror had left the back shadows of their eyes, and they were easily chatting, asking and moving. People interacting with people.
Oh, they never, at least from my point of view, didn't notice the chairs and the scooters and the walkers and the canes. It's just that they noticed something else.
And that something else made all the difference in the world.
It doesn't take long for the heart to change it's mind, a short walk may be all it takes.