Thursday, December 07, 2006

Manchester Conference

It's 5:10, Tuesday night, I'm about to begin my keynote lecture for the Paradigm conference. Keynotes always make me nervous, speaking after 3:30 is the worst block of time for me, waiting all day to talk is torture. Public speaking, though I'm told is a talent I have, is not something that rests easy with me. I am a shy person at heart and the idea of all those people looking at me sometimes terrifies me. But I do it, there are things I want to say, things I think need to be said, and I intend to say them. Caving into fear, I learned early on, leads to a lifetime of darkness and hiding. No more of that for me. So I take a little pink pill that like Alice makes me 10 feet tall.

But I've been to the Paradigm conference a number of times now, keynoted most of the times that I've been there. First in Birmingham and now in it's new home in Manchester. I've come to look forward to this conference. I look forward to the atmosphere it creates, there is a radicalism in the very structure of what happens at the conference. There is a presumption of equality of all and an eagerness to hear the voices of the attendees with disabilities.

Borrowing heavily from scripture here, 'whenever two or more of you are gathered in the name of jusitice, equality, and fair play' a joyous spirit will visit with you. And it's true. There is a joy and an energy that goes without defining. It's like you get a glimpse of what we could be like. It would be to expansive to say that one can now imagine the world an inclusive place, but it would be fair to say that it is possible to get a sense of what proper service to people with disabilities could look like.

There are a thousand meaningless incidents that add up to capital M meaning. Sitting at the booktable a woman with Down Syndrome, dressed in a lovely dark suit, wanders by lost. She had obviously turned the wrong turn and headed down to the coffee area instead of to where the conference rooms were. She stopped, looked confused, and then someone asked where she was going, she was given directions, said thankyou and went on her way. No big deal. Yet a very big deal. There was no staff rushing after her, trying to find her, trying to account for her every minute, she had had the dignity of being lost and the right to depend on the kindness of a stranger who owed her nothing but regular kindness and who did not receive a salary for pointing the way.

For all these reasons, I worry about my keyonte at this conference. I always want to have a message that matters and I fiddle with it until it is done.

Well that was two days ago and it's over. How did it go. I'll never really know. But what I do know, that when you meet excellence you want to fall in line. For not only did I feel the challenge, I think everyone there did.

There were two or more of us gathered there ... and the spirit did come.


Belinda said...

"When you meet excellence you want to fall in line." I LOVE that line --I absolutely love it--so much that I won't spoil it with more words of my own. But thank you!

Anonymous said...

Dave, you said you never know how it goes when you talk, and you don't, unless someone tells you. I was at the 9th World Down Syndrome Congress in Vancouver in August, with three colleagues and fellow parents, and we're still talking about your keynote, your book, The"R" Word, and the CDs we bought (and have actually listened to!) - I'd like you to know that it went very, very well that day. Your talk has already prompted me to act as a more effective advocate for my 21 yr old son, in a situation that I might have let slide by if I had not been so struck by your clarity on never saying "just ignore it". So many thanks. I sat in on your workshop too, and I was sorry that we didn't have a lot more time. Hope to catch you another time, and I'll keep reading your books, and this fabulous blog. This sounds like a fan letter - I guess it is.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Jill, thank you so much. I remember that day so well, I loved being in a place where there the love of parent for child was evident in so many faces. What you wrote meant a lot to me, I appreciate it. Dave