Saturday, May 24, 2008


I don't know why I thought about her, about them, this morning as we are up getting our things packed and ready to go on the flight. We chatted briefly in the restaurant over breakfast on our first morning in New Westminster. The wait staff were poorly organized and over time we all began looking at other tables both to check and see if they'd been served and to catch the eyes of other diners to give them, "Can you believe this?" looks. The girl who's eyes met mine was also in a wheelchair. That was no great surprise because most of the breakfasters in the restaurant were in wheelchairs.

When we rolled in both Joe and I pulled up short at the sight. There must have been 10 or 12 other people in chairs. Joe was the only 'two footer' in our area. But then, I was the odd man out because I was the 'odd man' in a room full of women. After catching the young woman's eyes, exchanging the 'knowing' glance about service, I was emboldened. I asked her if they were all part of some kind of team. She told me that they were there for the wheelchair basketball championship. I asked how her team did, she gave a quick smile and said they'd come in last. We both laughed.

We saw them several times during the stay at the hotel. They were quick and agile in their chairs. They were quick and agile with their wit. They hung around the lobby, fussed around on the computer, gossiped in groups. They were teens. To be sure there were some non-disabled people around but they were very much in the background, easy to miss. What wasn't possible to miss was the sense of camaraderie and community that these girls had with each other. The easy sense of belonging they had.

A few days earlier we had breakfast with my brother Larry and his wife Doreen. As we chatted Doreen mentioned that her grandson (she is my brother's second wife, he her second husband) was deaf and had recently come back from a trip to Ontario where he played hockey with an all deaf team. It seems that he lives in a smallish northern city where there is nothing much in the way of a deaf community, in fact he had never learned to sign. The trip represented the first time he was ever around others who were deaf, the trip changed him. He went from being 'the kid who can't hear' to a 'member of the deaf community'. He is learning to sign with a ferocious desire to know his language and understand his culture. Doreen was telling the story to a rapt audience. I wanted to know everything I could find out about his trip and his reaction to it. It confirmed in me the idea of the importance of disability identity and disability community. Although I think Doreen left breakfast thinking I was just a bit weird.

One of the high points on this trip was having lunch with Elizabeth and Linda. I met Elizabeth through her blog 'Screw Bronze' and knew her through her book 'Zed'. I had looked forward to meeting them and was thrilled that we could work out a time that was good for all. When we got the information from Linda about where to meet there were none of the usual worries. "Is it accessible?" "Will there be disabled parking?" With Elizabeth also being a wheelchair user, it was a given that if she could get in, so could I.

We lunched on Mexican food and talked. Gay couple to gay couple, disabled to disabled, and it was nice. Nice not having to define terms, the need to explain oneself doesn't exisist in the face of commonality. Oh to be sure there is much to say and tons to share, but there's much that also can remain unsaid and understood. That's what I liked about the whole thing. We all get the basics and could move on from there. Joe and I were shocked to discover that we'd been at the restaurant talking and laughing for almost 3 hours. Where had the time gone.

I want to write more about meeting Linda and Elizabeth, but I'm going to have to do that when I've got more than a few minutes to write and a little more time to think. What I wanted to say here, with these three examples, is that I'm thrilled at the emergence of the disability community, the realization of the disability identity, it gives me more than you can imagine.

Like the moment, when Cory, a wheelchair user who attended my conference in Courtenay burst into a greal grin, a grin of understanding, at a story I was telling. I knew at that moment that he and I, the only two on wheels in the room, were the only ones who had just got what I had said. It was a moment of intimacy - and what made it good, was that it was shared.

1 comment:

Ettina said...

That describes pretty much how I feel around other developmentally disabled people.