It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Fun*Run Time

It's ALREADY that time of year again: The ADAPT Fun*Run for Disability Rights is April 22nd 2012. Maryland's fundraising goal is $8,000 this year. Yes, that's right, $8,000

Donate $1! Donate $10! Donate $100! Donate $1,000! JUST DONATE so we can FREE OUR PEOPLE! I thank you very much for your support!

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Whole Life is a 'Happy Accident'

No, not one of those kind of accidents (I did say happy, didn't I?). [picture to the left is a car crash] And it wasn't an accident that I was born or that I have CP. No hospital negligence there. So what's the accident then? The accident is that I'm a uppity intellectual activist crip. Well, maybe not the uppity part. That's been ingrained in me. But surely the activist part.

What's the story? The story is that Monday evening I was giving a guest lecture to a bunch of undergrad students in a section of Teaching & Learning in a Diverse Society. The section is taught by the head of the center for student diversity. As an aside, I need to write that guy a thank you note. That's right, I want to thank him for the privilege of letting me speak in his class, as opposed to him thanking me for taking the time out of my day. He gets it. He really gets it. He gets that disability has a distinct culture and community and he gets that there is disability discrimination. Even though he doesn't know the word ableism he still talks about it in that context, asking people to view it in the same way they would view any other -ism. Most of all he gets that you can't learn about disability out of a textbook. You have to put a face and a story to it. It's why he looked for me (or someone like me, didn't know me before).

So of course he asked me if I'd ever experienced discrimination in the workplace (and in school and w/peers, but he didn't outright use those words). I said no. Then in my head I said 'that's not right.' It was a few hours later when I finally realized I'd forgotten about the time I tried to be a camp counselor. Doesn't matter though. I like the answer I gave better. I said no because I've chosen to work with places like the Maryland Disability Law Center, I'm involved in the Cross Disability Rights Coalition, I used to volunteer at a pediatric rehab hospital, I do this (and by this I mean speaking to students and professionals to break down barriers).

He asked me why? Why did I choose to work with my (pause) culture, in my community (I could kiss him for using those words)? I said that it's what I feel drawn to, my purpose, but that it was an accident. This was back in the dark ages when people still had VCRs and watched these things called tapes. Back when you had to put the TV on channel 3. It was 1999 or 2000. I was 14 or 15. We had rented a video. It was done. The TV was on channel 3. The TV was on a board of ed meeting. There was this kid testifying. His mom has severe epilepsy. He talked about how people stare at his mom in public and stuff. He talked about the Montgomery Exceptional Leaders (MEL) program and was there to try to get more funding to expand the program.

I looked at my mom. "What is this? What is he talking about?" I was expecting her not to know. Turns out she did know. Turns out MEL is a program for high school students with disabilities in my school system that trains us in self-advocacy and public speaking. What we did after the trainings was go to elementary and middle schools and talk to 3rd-8th graders about what it was like to have a disability. I got to skip the middle of a school day about once every other month in order to go (that was cool). Sometimes I did after school ones to grad students or as a training to teachers. I think there were about 60 of us involved from all over the county; from special ed to honors/advanced placement and everywhere in between. Usually 8-12 people went and we were broken up into groups of 4-5 so that we could hit up multiple classrooms at once. The coordinator tried to pick a good mix of us so that hopefully everyone in a room had a different disability.

My mom didn't know all of this, but she knew enough (had heard a group speak years and years ago) to peak my interest. "How come I no one has told me about this?" I asked. "I want to join. I want to do this."

"Are you sure?" my mom asked. "Kids are going to ask questions. Are you sure you're not going to be uncomfortable? You are going to have to answer them."

"YES I'M SURE. I want to do this." She was shocked. Like most disabled teens I hadn't been particularly comfortable with my disability up until that point. The rest is history. I went to school and went to my guidance counselor. "What is this? How come I don't know about this? I want to do this. I'm going to do this. How do I do this?"

We have 23 high schools in my county. 190 schools in total. We are somewhere in the top 5 biggest school systems in the country. Not every high school participates in MEL. Not every high school knows about MEL. Apparently she didn't. I made sure she found out. There is an application process. Someone in your school has to nominate you. She did. I participated for 3 years.

On my resume pretty near the top it says:

September 2000-Present Disability Awareness Presenter

  • Participated in approximately 30 elementary and middle school assemblies, teacher trainings, college classes, and peer assistant trainings
  • Presentation topics include disability & education, community inclusion, disability & the family, and disability/ableism awareness, among others
  • Conferences:
    • November 2008 Poster Presenter, Association of University Centers on Disability Annual Conference
    • December 2007 Panel Presenter, Partnership of Jewish Life and Learning or Greater Washington’s Opening the Gates of Torah Conference
Above that, it says:

June 2008-Present Member, Cross Disability Rights Coalition
  • Attend Bimonthly meetings along with other activists from across Maryland to advocate for better community living options for individuals living in nursing homes or state run institutions
  • Testify at state legislative hearings in support of disability related bills
March-December 2007 Independent Study, Disability and the Human Service Worker
  • Planed a 3 hr disability awareness program for the Family Studies and Community Development Department
  • Received an independent grant that was used to fund the workshop
  • Successfully lead 5 monthly planning committee meetings and 3 training meetings for peer workers
  • Completed a pre/post study that gauged participants attitudes about people with disabilities
  • Designed brochures and handouts to be given to participants
There are other disability related things on there as well. Practically my whole resume is disability related. It's a full 2 pages. I can't work and go to school, but I can do things like this. Anything to give me an edge over someone else. Anything to help myself and my community. Rabbi Hillel, a long ago dead very famous guy said this "If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself who am I? If not now when?" I believe in that. If you want something done, do it yourself, but think about your community when doing so (if only I would live by that all the time).

I googled Montgomery Exceptional Leaders hoping to find a logo to put in here. I think we had one. What I found was a case study in a book. Google book search will not let my copy/paste into here, and due to vision problems I am not going to retype it when you can just click. I'm trying to figure out if I know him. If we overlapped in years. But the point is, that guy is me (except that my hearing is not the issue). I could not explain any better what exactly that program did for me. It's perfectly put.

My whole life is the result of a freak accident. If we hadn't rented a video that night, had the TV not been on channel 3, if we had even watched the video at a different time, I would not be the person I am today. I have a feeling I might still be a somewhat depressed, slightly bitter, a little angry, and very lonely woman. Not that I'm perfect now, but I have some pride in who I am. I owe a lot of my current existence to MEL, and in particular to the woman who ran it through those years (who is no longer). All I can say is thank you.

And now to be totally random, the indie movie Happy Accidents is pretty good IMO.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin


Get your own free Blogoversary button!
design by