I arrived home a couple nights ago to an email from a regular reader of Rolling Around in my Head. I was being asked a favour. I felt humble in the face of the request. My reader has just become the mother of an infant child with a disability. She wanted me to write a letter to the baby. A welcome to the world as it is. I have thought, solidly for two days, about this request and have decided to take it on. I ask all readers, if I've missed the mark or if you want to give a message for the family or to Tio himself, please do so in the Comments Section.
I am unknown to you, Tio. I will never hold you. Never feed you. Never bring you presents on the holiday. But still, I am a member of your 'other' family. As you get older you will become aware that your disability brings you inclusion into the 'family' of disability. This may seem odd to you at first, but as you grow, it will become an emotional support for you when you need it. You see Tio you have Grandmothers and Grandfathers with disabilities who have fought with all their might so that you might have this world that you live in. A world with curb cuts, a world with access to education, a world with the right to breathe free air.
Every disabled person who has ever marched in protest of discrimination. Every disabled person who wrote letters of complaint to governments. Every disabled person who stood up to a bully in a playground. They did it, partially, for you. They knew that you were coming. They knew that one day there would be a disabled child borne into this world and they wanted this world to be physically and socially ready for you. They didn't want you to have the barriers that they had.
And your Grandmom's and your Grandpa's fought amazing battles. You won't find the history of your family, your people, easy to find. But let me tell you our history is a vibrant one. It is the history of the claiming of the community. There was a time when we walked, or rolled, or otherwise made our way through the land of the long corridor and into neighbourhoods. There was a time when we lived with shame as our last name and apology as our first. There was a time, Tio, that no one could imagine what you can now fully expect.
It sounds as if I'm saying that you were borne at the right time. And I am. But you were also borne at the wrong time. There are increasing questions about our rights as a people to exist, about the value we bring to society, about the very breath we breathe. You will run into prejudice in the oddest places. Teachers who do not wish to teach you. Doctors who do not wish to doctor you. Neighbours who do not wish to neighbour you. You will be 'surprised' by intolerance over and over again.
There will be times that you may be tempted to wish that you were borne otherwise. That you were made of the same mould as other people, typical people. Be careful of this wish, Tio, it can only lead to envy and bitterness. In these times seek out the resources of your own heart, your own spirit. You are way stronger than you think you are. If you let it your resourcefulness will surprise you. Dig even deeper and find the place where your laughter lives - humour in the face of adversity and prejudice will keep you sane.
Your Grandpa's and Grandma's, your aunts and your uncles and even your cousins have worked hard for you to have the world you have. They have fought battles that you will not have to fight. But, part of the honour and obligation of being having disability kinship is that you have a responsibility to keep on the fight. Face down bigotry. Break down barriers. A cut curb gets you onto the sidewalk, but that's not far enough. There are still places that deny you access, employment, opportunity. Use the liberty already won as the leverage for the liberty yet to be gained. Remember, in a few years there will be a baby named Amanda, she needs you to ready the world for her.
So Tio, I will never hold you with my arms, but I hold you now in my heart. I thank your mother for the privilege and the opportunity to speak to you. I am deeply touched by her trust in me and hope it hasn't been misplaced. You know Tio, your mom's letter came just a couple days before the disability family confronts bigotry and bias on Blogging Against Disablism and Disphobia day. Right now all over the blog people are writing in support of a world without prejudice. A world that embraces difference and disability. This is the world we all want for you Tio.
Laugh lots while you grow. Be playful throughout your entire life. Cast love into dark hearts. Have faith in yourself. And when you need us, come home to family.