Yesterday Joe and I drove down to Saint Catharines as I'd been asked to do an hour and a half talk on 'Disability Pride' to a mixed audience of people with disabilities, families and direct care staff. The room was packed with close to three hundred people, I sat at the front, getting prepared - dealing with nerves - and listened to a fellow play keyboards for the crowd. Several people came and chatted with me, I knew a fair number of staff as well as parents as well as people with intellectual disabilities. When you've been doing this for as long as I have you meet people.
I spoke for the whole ninety minutes - with a brief stop for people to take a look at a handout - and for the whole time watched the audience listen and react. Some of what I was saying was terribly personal and makes me feel really vulnerable but it's what I need to say at this point in my life, this point in my career. I got encouragement from looking at the faces of those with disabilities. Nodding, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing, sometimes applauding wildly. I had looked at each story, I am a plain speaker - so plain language isn't hard for me - I knew that if I caught people's attention, it would work.
I had attention.
When it was all over, a line up of people with disabilities came up to speak to me. Many saying that they liked the talk, some saying that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD should hear the talk, some saying quietly that they really understood what I was saying. It was gratifying to hear from so many people with intellectual disabilities that they liked the idea of 'disability pride,' about being 'out' with having a disability, about the dignity that comes from self awareness. It gave me a sense that many had waited for a long time to hear what was said there.
Joe told me that he watched a mother and daughter sitting together listening, they cried a lot during the talk, they hugged a couple of times. The mother, involuntarily, pointed at me and nodded her head. Joe said, 'If she was in church she would have hollered, 'AMEN'. I loved that he saw that. I think that the upside of Disability Pride is that it attacks the very idea of shame. Why would any parent be ashamed of a proudful child living a life of pride and purpose? I believe that pride is the basic ingredient in the only antidote to prejudice, but I also believe that pride is the only ointment which has any hope of healing shame.
This was a new experience for me.
There was a time that I was part of the conspiracy of silence around intellectual disability. I never spoke of it with those I served, I mentioned it only in whispers in answer to the question 'what do you do.' No more. Never again.
I can say the word 'disability' out loud.
I can acknowledge 'disability' in a room full of those with disabilities.
I can, and will, take pride in the fact that we are finally taking pride in who we are.
Come spring ... come change.