This has had me reflecting:
Blogging about Disabilism Day . First day in graduate school as a young mom who had just started using a cane and I hear from the professor: No other form of discrimination has been so pervasive as discrimination against people with disabilities. Fifteen years later I can still recall that feeling - it hit me hard. You mean I am going to adjust to going blind and also experience discrimination? At that point, little did I realize the blindness was/is very doable but this discrimination on many levels is indeed the challenge. Years later I can say the discrimination is real, it hurts and at times takes one by surprise on where it comes from. I can say it has tested and taken my sense of self to a level that I wouldn't trade for anything. I can say it has taken my sense of self to a level of questioning and insecurity at times. I still am amazed when someone feels they can just come up to me and ask some pretty intrusive questions ... you don't look blind, what disease do you have, how did you get your husband to marry you, the list can go on ... Indeed insensitive, total violation of boundaries and today's post is about the journey that is still ahead.
I am so grateful for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is sad to me that in many instances inclusion must be forced - that I must say it is the law that you allow me access. We will discuss in a job interview my qualifications for this job not my personal story of blindness.
I recently went to lunch with a friend that I have known for nearly 20 years. We had a delightful lunch sharing updates on our family, professional exchanges and news, our latest travels and even a request that I go shopping with her to coordinate some of her outfits. As we left the restaurant my guide and I walked slow to allow her to catch up. She had recently experienced an injury and was walking slow with a limp. I was rather shocked when she indicated well, it is the cripple leading the cripple. I work hard to not let the little things people say or do bother me ... they are there each day, however I did find this offensive. I have been reflecting on why I found this offensive and I realize that I see my blindness as simply one of many attributes of who I am -- certainly not like a temporary injury. My walking confidently out of the restaurant with my guide dog was very different than her temporary injury. I understand that she meant nothing hurtful by this comment, and it is up to me to share my feelings and be proactive. I also recognize that we can't take ourselves too seriously, and times when we let things go.
However, mandating inclusion through the Americans with Disabilities Act is imperative. It can be improved upon but I am grateful for it each day. I want to believe we have made great strides and, unfortunately am reminded continually of the steps that still must be taken. I choose to celebrate on the progress. When I was asked to leave a grocery store with my guide dog, I did not. The store manager called the police. I will never forget that feelng of discrimination as he forced us outside until the police came. I recall being so grateful for the Americans with Disabilities Act and knowing that I would have the opportunity to educate and return to this grocery store. Thankfully, this did happen. I encouraged this store manager to become an advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act and educate others. Unfortunate, that these type of incidents do still occur in 2010! As experiences like our trip to NYC remind me there is so much more work to be done. I believe that changes are made one experience and one person at a time. Do what you can with what you have where you are.
All this being said, I appreciate when people want to get to know me for who I am and am happy to answer questions and share my story. I celebrate a day like today where we can openly talk about our experiences and ask questions. I recently hired a new employee who is going to be an incredible gift to our office. She has some specific expertise in marriage therapy and solution focused work that will be a gift to offer our clients. She is a wife, mom, and has such a fun personality. I have loved getting to know her, learning about the adapations that she has created, and yes, we have shared some stories about our challenges of discrimination. She uses a wheelchair.
I am not defined by my disability. I am grateful to be settled in my career and as a small business owner, I am in charge of my success in the workplace. As this topic came up, I do reflect on some days of discrimination and am always willing to be an advocate and educator for others experiencing the challenges of discrimination. “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” penned by George Bernard Shaw.
How do you treat a person with a disability? Like a person ... just like you would anyone else.