I'm buzzing. Absolutely buzzing. Today I did a workshop for 90 people with intellectual disabilities in Bournemouth. I sat at the front as various small groups and individuals arrived. The organizers from the Bournemouth Forum were busy making sure that everything was ready and I sat quietly going over my notes and 'psyching up' for the day. I have rarely done a workshop for so many people with disabilities. As they took their seats I became intimidated.
These were people who had walked such a different path than I had. They came, some on their own, some in the company of care providers, they came. But they came from a different land. A different world. They sat alone and in groups. Some chatted but most sat quiet, waiting, as they have waited all their lives for justice to arrive. What did I have to say to these people? Why should they listen to me? My heart began to race and, panic rising, I located all the exits.
Finally the room was full. I announced that we would start in a couple of minutes. Some looked at me expectantly. Some didn't look up. Some rocked. Some paced. Some quitely muttered. There was nothing to do but start.
We began, like I always do, with the 'NO rap' where people shout out 'yes' or 'no' to various statements. The very first 'no' shook the rafters. They were here to learn, to participate and by the heavens, they did. We sailed together, they and I, through the day.
At one point, in my favourite role play, a single woman gets up and shouts 'no' to Joe who stands at the back of the room when he says 'hey, babe, you want a ride'. Slowly, more and more women get up, finally women, men, staff, self advocates, are up and shouting 'no' 'no' 'NO' 'NO!!!'. I had turned on the tap. They didn't stop they shouted 'no' as if they were shouting through their own histories at everyone who had ever treated them with disrespect. My heart thundered in my chest as I imagined disphobic bigots everywhere shivering as if someone walked over their prejudice.
By the end of the day, I had a glimpse of the strength of the PEOPLE who have disabilities. This was not a gathering, this was a community, a people. What untapped potential we have for revolution. What incredible resource for change. I know this because they reached inside of me and erased, for a few hours, the boundaries of my expectations of just what and just who disabled people are and just what and just who people with disabilities could become.