What I’ve learned about myself from doing my disability awareness workshop: First and foremost, I have two very strong personal creeds, which have guided most everything I’ve done this past year. The first is “don’t reinvent the wheel.” If someone’s done something really great before, it’s totally ok to steal their ideas. Not just ok, but I wholeheartedly encourage such behavior. I’m not talking about taking credit for things that break intellectual property laws; in fact, I’m not even talking about taking credit for any type of ideas. I will be the first to admit where I got something from. I just feel like why waste perfectly good energy coming up with things from thin air when sometimes things are basically served to you on a silver platter.
For my second personal creed, I’m going to quote Rabbi Hillel, who lived in the first century CE. “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself who am I? If not now when?” (FYI, Jews always answer questions with questions. It’s what we do.) I first heard this quote when I was 9 years old. Someone wrote a whole song around it that I learned at camp. I’ve never really thought about what it meant before, but I think it fits me perfectly. I think what it means is that you need to remember to take care of yourself and be true to yourself while always looking out for the needs of others, because basically, if you don’t do it nobody’s going to come along and do it for you. I really haven’t been the greatest at adopting this ideal into my life as a whole, but I feel like I’ve managed to do so in at least one area, and I guess that’s a start. I emailed my department chair because I saw a need; a need that no one else was going to fill. So I blindly jumped right in and did something about it.
I’ve been spending hours lately, since I started this blog, doing deep philosophical thinking about different aspects of my life. Really picking each one apart until I come to a definitive answer on whatever it is. Is it the right answer? I have no idea. But at least I feel like I’m accomplishing a whole lot more then if I were to spend those same hours watching TV. One of the thoughts that has popped into my head recently is that I am now the token gimp of the family studies department. I can’t very well say that I am the token gimp of Towson University. I feel like the amount of physically disabled students has increased even in the short time that I’ve been there, so of course I’m not the only one. And anyway, that honor has to go to Dan Keplinger (he is King Gimp after all). But if you factor in the fact that 6% of Towson students (aprox 1100 out of 19000) have identified themselves to disability support services and that most of those students have learning disabilities, and then you factor in the fact that according to a Towerlight article printed last spring there are only 175 family studies majors, you end up with just me. I could run off a fair list of family studies majors that have either learning or medical disabilities but I haven’t seen another person with a disability as overt as mine. Even before the slightest of thoughts about a workshop came into my mind I was the one that raised my hand in Trends in Family Life class and pointed out that the average person on supplemental security income (SSI) gets about twice the amount of money per month that a single mother with kids gets on welfare. Who else would need to know that? I am going to be on SSI in the foreseeable future.
Do I mind being the token gimp of the family studies department? Absolutely not. That’s a far cry from five years ago when I was ordering my powerchair—“No one’s going to be friends with me or even talk to me because I have a wheelchair.” The wheelchair and the crutches and not driving and things still bother me, but a lot less since I’ve gotten philosophical. If I didn’t have a wheelchair or crutches or if I could drive, I wouldn’t be the token gimp. Being the token gimp is important. It fills a need. I'm at an institution of higher learning, and I have single handedly provided students several opportunities to employ high-level critical thinking skills both directly and indirectly. Maybe someone I’ve been in a class with, who would have seen me in a restaurant (with food on my shirt of course) and automatically thought I was retarded has had a schematic shift, and is now many times less likely to make such erroneous assumptions again. Not that I’ll ever know, but I can hope.