Tuesday, January 09, 2018


On 'the lecture' that broke my career wide open and boosted my lecturing from evenings in church basements to giving presentations at conferences and seminars I ended up making an enemy. There were three of us presenting and I was to go last. We'd met a couple of times and I was finding it hard to be listened to or heard. I was used to this because, being fat, dismissal is a fairly common experience. The two other presenters had PhD's and the lead presenter was a well dressed very fit man. Even though I wasn't taken seriously I did push into their conversation to mention what the topic of my presentation would be. We had an hour and a half session and we broke it into thirds and, after that meeting, we met up again on the day of the presentation.

I had decided that I was going to try some physical comedy into the presentation, something, with my body, I'd never done. I wanted to demonstrate the many pressures on direct support professionals as part of my presentation about DSP's as partners in the clinical role. The day came and I was really nervous, I was only a couple years into lecturing and most of that was low key affairs doing parent or staff training to very small groups. This was a big conference, really, really, big. The audience would be over 100 people and I'd never spoken to that many people ever.

So, the fit guy in the suit, PhD and all, gave his presentation. It was a bit dry. The second PhD gave his presentation and he was a little more animated. Now it was my turn, I'd been sitting there through their two presentations just filling myself with anxiety and when  got up I released that energy. I did the physical thing to start, it worked, I had the audience and then I went for it. It was awesome. I wasn't thinking about anything but the material and the stories I was using and staying on track. I didn't notice until it was over and the room stood to applaud that the first speaker, was staring at me with hostility and contempt.

He accused the organizers of 'setting him up' that I had lied about my presentation. I hadn't but we didn't talk style of presentation. Then he said to the organizer, "Look at him, I expected nothing out of him. I should have been warned."

"Look at him, I expected nothing out of him."

That's an interesting sentiment. It's one that, in the world of the internet comes out really often. When Susan Boyle or Paul Potts came out to sign for the first time on their televised talent shows the audiences and judges were shocked to hear their voices because their eyes had told them that these were ridiculous people who could have no talent at all. Then they go wild at their performance more out of shock than out of approval for the song that was sung.

There is an idea that the eye can tell who is gifted with talent and intelligence and who is not. In my sector you will hear staff say, "Don't underestimate her, she's not as disabled as she looks." We have this idea that we know more than we know but let's face a fact ... the eye cannot diagnose, the eye cannot predict failure, the eye cannot determine where talent lives.

Now, to the video that I have attached to this. It is a video of an elderly, disabled, homeless man who stops to sing a song with a busker. The song was Summertime and when the mike was passed over, the man sang it beautifully and soulfully. That's what happened. but the article that was attached to it was one of those "YOU WON'T BELIEVE" kind of article's that outlines the shock people will feel at hearing him sign. Here's a direct quote from the article:

Words certainly can not do his spectacular vocals justice, you really need to listen to this to (sic) for yourself to find out, it just goes to show that sometimes, talent can be found in the most unlikely of places.


Why is it unlikely?

Because he's homeless?

Because he's a wheelchair user?

Because he's elderly?

Because he's poor?

If you think that any of these is a reason for believing this man has no talent or is not worthy of talent, you have to look at who you are and why you think the way you think. Pre-determining who you think will have talent and worth is simply prejudice. Until you can make peace with the fact that talent lies where it lies and you lose that sense of shock that something of beauty can come from anyone, anywhere, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or how others value them - you will remain, simply, another prejudiced person, ripe for articles to 'shock' you by showing you, simply what this video showed.

"Man sings Summertime."

But that wouldn't be click bait would it.

But in fact that's all the video shows.


Shannon said...

The low expectations thing again. I hate that.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Beautiful voice and delivery. I get the expectations as well.

This man hasn't let life rob himm of something he treasures.

I bet your presentation was something to remember - and those other presenters were what we call sore losers. A gracious and real presenter would have cheered you on and clapped. And learned. His loss.

Annie said...

Back in the mid-eighties, I saw you speak at a conference in Ellensburg, WA. I was electrified. It changed what I believe about people with disabilities, and the ethics of our interactions. I read all of your books, after that. I got a copy of your tape, and used it as part of the training materials for new staff when I hired. It changed my heart and my direction. I still tell people about your books whenever the topic comes up, and tell them that your talk changed me, back when I was shiny and new in human services.

I didn't know back then, that I would one day be disabled myself, and would have a niece with Down Syndrome. I didn't know that the professional would become so personal. Your blog is inspiring to me, and I'm happy to have discovered it. It's been nearly thirty years since I heard you speak. I remember it still, and how it made me feel. Thank you.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Annie, believe it or not I remember presenting in Ellensburg! Long story. I'm honoured to hear that the work I've done has helped you think differently. Thank you.