Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Trip: It Starts

We had stopped for gas somewhere in Michigan. I was strapped down, in my wheelchair, in the MV1 and decided not to go through the hassle of unclamping the wheels opting instead just to stay put in the car. Maria, one of Vita's members came over to the window to keep me company. We chatted about the trip and she told me a bit about the boyfriend she'd just gotten a text message from. Maria is very involved in the self advocacy movement and was really looking forward to participating in the Disability Pride parade. It was nice to get to know her a little bit better.

Somewhere mid chat, I was struck by something.

Years and years ago, when I was a young direct care staff, I was in a van taking people with disabilities to the CNE. The experience was one of control and submission. People sat where they were told, did what they were instructed to do and were quiet when told to hush up. There seemed to be a natural order to things. We, as staff, instructed. They, as 'clients' followed those instructions. They had fun on cue. It was a very different time in service delivery and I didn't question the way of things because when things are 'the way of things,' well, they were the way of things.

I remember that outing specifically, I think, because of my own excitement. As a young boy I used to see commericals on the CBC, which was one of the four stations we got, for the 'EX' as it was called. I wanted to go so badly that it hurt. It looked like so much fun and the idea of being there was amazing for a small boy who could become intoxicated at the idea of cotton candy. And, now, here I was, in a van taking several people on an outing to a place that I'd dreamed of going.

And let me tell you they had a really good time I had an awesome time. I marched them from place to place, they followed me dutifully, as I saw what there was to be seen. I knew, just knew, that they were seeing what they wanted to see too. I didn't ask them, of course, I didn't need to. I saw compliance as consent and believed that they were happy because I was happy. It's an easy trap to fall into.

I remembered this, now, on our way to Chicago. It chilled me to think that I could have been so oblivious to the effect of my position, and the authority gifted to me by it, that I allowed myself to be exactly who I didn't want to be. I remembered this, while chatting with a woman with a disability who gifted me with her time as I was the one strapped down, I was the one who wanted company.

Throughout the whole weekend I discovered the great difference between 'taking to' and 'going with.' We were all there together to participate together as equal participants together. Even before we got to the hotel I had learned something.

Times have changed.

And so have I.


TMc said...

It certainly true that times have changed and so have we (seasoned professionals). How can we accelerate the learning for new staff so they can support people without going through the power over stage?

Belinda said...

We do change with time and are humbled to realize that what we once thought of as doing a job well,in hindsight left much to be desired. I will never forget the impact of hearing "The Credo for Support" for the first time about 18 years ago. I felt humbled and lost for words.

In answer to TMc, I think that we can never overdo staff training in this area. We are miles ahead of where we were in philosophy, but the skills of support don't come automatically.

John R. said...

I am "with" you ALL on this one....times have changed thank goodness and equity prevails in fun things as well as all those "support" activities....fun is still "mandated" in some of the regulatory expectations of my particular municipality but the reality is that to "mandate" and plan fun is kinda like planning your heart to beat....it happens organically...sounds like you had fun WITH the members of VITA....hope you had some Chicago pizza!!