Monday, January 22, 2018

Does It Mean Us?

Photo description: Nurses from th early 1940's Germany standing in front of large wooden doors set into and old brick building.
Joe and I went to see The Evidence Room at the Royal Ontario Museum.  The exhibit presented the architectural evidence that Auschwitz was purpose built for death. We had been meaning to go for a long time but, for each of us and for different reasons, we found ourselves a bit frightened of the intensity of the experience. But, it closes next weekend and we dug down and made the decision. We would not miss this. We would not allow ourselves the convenient "we were too busy" excuse that people use to avoid what needed to be done. So. We went.

The exhibit was not large, but it didn't need to be. The museum was packed yet we were the only ones there. And while we were there, no one else came in. Before entering a note asked visitors to be respectful of the space, it was impossible for us not to be. I wanted to write about a particular moment for me when I was going through the exhibit, I choose to keep my internal emotional reaction private, mostly because I don't really have the words. But there was a moment.

As I looked at the architectural plans they noted that there were stairs down to the corridor that lead to the chambers. Stairs. Now I know that lots and lots of disabled people ended up at the camp. One picture tells that story:

Photo description: colour photograph of adaptive mobility devises taken from prisoners with disability on arrival at Auschwitz.
But the word 'stares' took me to what I knew of disability history. I went to look for information on Hadamar and the Hadamar Euthanasia Centre. Here was the headquarters of the T-4 program that ordered state elimination of people with disabilities. Now go back up and look at the picture at the top of this blog. You will see the 'nurses' who staffed that center. These were the people who were tasked with the death of individual people with disabilities, tasked also with the elimination of the people who were disabled. They smiled for the pictures with swastikas tattooed on their hearts.

They don't look like monsters.

They never do.

Now let's take a look at some of those that they killed. Some of our own. Our people. Claimed people. They are embraced as part of our history and need to be remembered in order for their story to be repeated not repelled.

Photo description: Picture of three young boys with disabilities who were killed, very possibily by the nicely dressed, smiling for a photograph nurses in the first picture.
Rolling out of the exhibit, rolling away from what is now past not present, what is remembered not lived, I realized how dangerous hatred is when it finds a spokesperson, when it finds a permission giver, when it finds a champion. I realized that I roll myself in freedom, not captivity, into life, not death.

But I don't roll into a future where I am convinced that 'Never Again' means us.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Unalone

We were just leaving the 'Abilities Expo' pushing up by a number of vendors. We'd had a really good time. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed something wonderful happening. There were many vendors with vans made accessible and things to make van's accessible, Joe and I didn't spend any time there because we have no hope of ever affording something like that. But as we passed a van that had a passenger seat that lifted out and a long arm brought it out and down to the ground. We saw a young girl of about ten, with a grin that made the Cheshire Cat look depressed. Before the seat it the ground, she had already taken off her safety belt and made herself ready to transfer.

Her parents stood to the side watching. Mom had that I'm happy, I'm proud and I love you look in her eyes. Dad, embarrassed kept pushing his tears aside. The little girl didn't take her eyes off the goal. She transferred with help from her father, into the passenger seat and then was lifted up. Seconds later she was sitting in the front seat of the van.

For a moment her joyful sounds told everyone that she was happy, deeply and profoundly happy. We were by the area now but as we approached the door we could hear her again as she was being transferred out. She was having a blast.

I had seen people with all different kinds of disability talking to vendors, meeting up with each other, everyone comfortable in their own skin. Difference was valued here in ways that it isn't 'out there.' I met and spoke with at least 10 other disabled people. We didn't have long conversations about disability and the disability experience. It was like seeing something at the same time and both saying, 'That's cool shit' at the same time.

And I found something there.

But that's a story for another day.

We had fun. We learned things. But I, felt unalone ... I got what I came for.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Only One

Today I'm going to the Disability Expo here in Toronto and I'm wild excited. I am looking forward to this for a variety of reasons:

I work with people who have disabilities and I think I'm responsible for keeping up on what's out there to assist me people with mobility, with communication, with having fun. Devises themselves can have an important meaning: Wow, a devise that enables skating for people with wheelchairs to skate. Wait?? What?? Skating? Disability? WTF? Yep devises have messages.

I'm also excited because I spend most of my days being 'the only one' ... the only wheelchair user in the mall, in the grocery store, in the movie theatre, in the gym ... in the virtually everywhere. Even with the friendliness and even with a welcoming attitude, I'm still the only one.

Now I'm going to a place where there will be others, like me, rolling around, or making their way around using whatever they need for mobility or for processing the place to get around.

I won't be alone.

I won't be the only one.

So, I'm getting ready to dive into the disability gene pool for a few laps. And I can't tell you how nice that's gonna feel.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

In The Pool

We went south to meet up with a friend for coffee. He goes to a gym and had suggested that we have coffee in the small coffee shop in the gym complex. I was interested to take a look at his gym to see if, like mine, they had the same range of accessible equipment. They didn't. We had our drinks, green tea for me, and chatted and laughed and caught up.

When it came time to leave,  I pushed by the swimming pool towards the door. I waited at the door for Joe to go get the car and then  I would roll down to him. It surprised me to see that the pool was taken up by a small group of people with disabilities being supported by their stafff.

There were 6 people with disabilities and 2 staff. One of the staff, a young man, was playing catch with 4 of those with disabilities, they were having fun and he clearly knew how to engage people and all were laughing and grabbing for the ball and generally doing what people do in pools. The other two with disabilities were in the hot tub. Two staff were there two, both, again, young people. Those two staff just talked to each other. It was like they were in their own little world.

The two people with disabilities, a woman beside the female staff and a man beside the male staff sat, not existing, while they laughed and talked and enjoyed each other's company. It was clear that they were busy with each other and completely unavailable to those they were with. Not once did they glance at or speak to those with them, not once did they notice the their colleague was working, having fun and communicating to each person their about their value and worth and the respect he held for them.

Outside the pool beside me sitting on a bench were two women my age. Just as Joe pulled up one of them said, "Do you think it would be safe to be in the pool with them? The one fellow seems to think so but those other two look a bit scared to even talk to them."

People watch you.

You communicate value.

You communicate respect

Or.

Not.

Really not.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Power, Disability,Sexuality: The Courage of 14 Million People

In an article on Gay Star News, one of three sites I go to for news about LGBT issues, Shannon Power wrote an article on Churches in India writing an open letter calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. She wrote that: "The National Council of Churches in India represents about 14 million people." I know it's odd to hear of support from Churches for the inclusion and welcome of LGBT people. However, in their letter they said something that applies directly to people with intellectual disabilities who live in service systems. The beauty and power of the words had a profound effect on me.

Here's what they said: "This repressive legal code further reduces human body and sexuality into 'colonies' that can be invaded, tamed, and redeemed with the display of abusive power."

KAPOW! Doesn't that hit the mark?

This is such a description of the experience of so many people with disabilities. The tyranny and colonization of the body and sexuality, the utter control sought over the heart, mind, soul, and sexuality is clearly an abuse of power and abuse at the highest level. And this abuse is often built right into policy. The 'system' has the ability to criminalize and punish health sexual expression.

I remember a man with a disability who had been 'caught' with his boyfriend and was punished so severely that he never, ever, recovered. He thought himself dirty. He thought his desires sinful. He thought that his desire to touch was evidence of Satan in his life. No matter how much work was done, nothing could shift those views. He lives a desperately sad and lonely life.

I remember a woman with a disability who, when she was discovered in a relationship with a fellow that she'd met at the sheltered industry (as they existed back then) she was attacked and called the names expressly used against women with sexual agency, and now sees that, and this is a direct quote: Love is wrong, people hurt you for it."

I remember the guy whose mother burned his fingers on the stove to punish him for masturbation. His fear is deep and his fear is legitimate.

I know that this article was about the decriminalization of homosexuality, something that a gay man really matters to me (and it should you too if you believe in freedom and equality) but it also gives a language to what was done with our power. What was done to people with intellectual disabilities. It reminds us when we believe that service systems, or parents, or guardians, or any other person believes that they have the right of ownership over another persons body, another persons heart and another persons choices.

"This repressive legal code further reduces human body and sexuality into 'colonies' that can be invaded, tamed, and redeemed with the display of abusive power."

Monday, January 15, 2018

Demonstrate Deserving

When I first saw it I felt a twinge on sadness approaching despair. It is impossible as a Canadian not to be overwhelmed by the news flowing north of the border, it is impossible not to be shaken by what we hear and see. The most recent comments by the President of the United States of America regarding 'shithole' countries was more than appalling, it was disturbing. It also resulted in a wave of responses from those who, and it shocks me that it's not all of us, that kind of racism expressed by someone in high office, though not, as many Americans think, the leader of the free world.

One of those responses was a video wherein people from those 'shithole' countries talk about them and their accomplishments and their and their families contribution to American society. They speak with passion and with pride and with a clear message of 'we belong.' They list the successes they've had, the contributions they made and it's, in its way, moving.

But as a gay, disabled, person I worried about the message behind the message, "We're good ones!" I found that myself first as a gay man, when I would list the accomplishments of the LGBT communities and would freely list people like James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Oscar Wilde, Christine Jorgenson and Sally Ride. There are many many more. My message, "See these famous LGBT people? See the contributions?" Then I'd list some of my own contributions." It never worked, all I was doing was saying that we LGBT people don't naturally belong we have to demonstrate deserving to belong. We aren't just Canadians, we are people who need to prove worth.

Of course, the lesson didn't stick, when I became disabled, I began, very quickly to do the same thing. I could list all sorts of famous people with disabilities. I researched to find them and would use them in arguments with people whose 'death before disability' ideas frightened me. To that, I began to list my achievements after disability. See, I still contribute, see, I still earn a living, see, I'm still worthy.

Again I was struggling to demonstrate deserving.

Again I felt that my citizenship wasn't a given.

Again I built a ramp so I could push myself up to equality.

But I am Canadian.

Recent immigrants to Canada are Canadians, they don't need to go on television and prove themselves worthy of their citizenship.

American immigrants don't need to display accomplishments before a leader who will never see them as mattering.

What matters is that you are American.

What matters is that you are Canadian.

What matters is that bigotry is always a wrong.

And that your existence is always a right.

I am who I am and I am fully and proudly different. Bigots may lash out. The prejudiced may get in my way. But I am, with all of my difference, defiantly flying the flag of my citizenship.

I belong.

And I don't need to prove to anyone why that's true.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Gravity my PA

When we got to the center Joe parked as close to the door as possible. I got out and began to push myself up the slight hill to get to the door. I have done this for a long time and it's now a fairly easy push for me but this time I was pushing uphill, on a surface covered in slush and a ridiculous amount of salt. It was hard,  I went slowly but I made it into the building. I hadn't been bothered by offers of help because I was lucky enough to come in when there was no on else around.

A couple hours later, when we were preparing to leave, I went over to the doors to watch for Joe who was bringing the car to come get me. The parking lot was busy and there were lots of cars dropping people off so I knew that it would take some time so I sat back in my wheelchair relaxing while I was waiting.

"Excuse me, are you waiting for a ride?" came the voice of, as it turned out, a young man in his early 30s.

"Yes, I am," I said.

"Would you like me to wait with you and help you get to your car?"

"Thanks, but no, I'm good."

"I don't mind," he said a bit earnestly.

"No really, it's okay, I don't need help."

"It's no bother," he said.

I sighed, bored by a conversation I've hand thousands of time, "Look outside, it's downhill, I'm on wheels."

"But ..." he said.

I interrupted, "It's down hill, I'm on wheels, I've got gravity on my side, really, seriously, I don't need help."

He looked so disappointed, but he acknowledged my 'no.'

But I think he went away wondering why I would let gravity help me but not him.

Joe pulled up and I went through the door and rolled downhill barely needing to touch my wheels except where the salt lay in big bunches on the pavement.

Wheels.

Downhill.

Seriously.