Monday, September 15, 2014

Strawberries and Dilemmas

We were coming home, a grey and grizzly day, cold seeped into our bones. Yes, summer in Canada can include days that feel like early winter. As we were walking home I suddenly thought of our next door neighbour. We don't really know her that well. Just the usual neighbour kind of interaction - we'll take parcels for her, she'll take them for us.

Recently Joe ran into her and she told him that she was having more and more difficulty getting around and she was fearful of becoming house bound. I mentioned to Joe that we were not in a rush and asked him if we should call her and see if there is anything she needs or wants from the store.

Then began the discussion. We worried that she would feel our call intrusive. We worried that she would regret having said anything to Joe. We worried that she would think that we felt sorry for her. We worried that she would misinterpret our act in some way.

We were almost home when it was decided that we'd just ignore our worries and just make the call. If it annoys her, it annoys her. So, we called. Her voice was wary until she recognized my voice. I told her we were on our way home and wondered if she wanted or needed anything.

She paused.

I waited.

"Strawberries," she said, "and cream."

Another pause.

"I would love to have some strawberries and cream."

There was nothing else she needed. So we headed off and picked the finest basket of strawberries we could find. We got the cream. On our way home we called her with the amount, as she had asked, so she could get the money ready.

Arriving home, Joe helped me into the apartment and then headed over to her place to give her her little package.

It was such a simple thing to do. But we felt enriched by the whole thing.

I wish I worried as much about the things that come out of my mouth when angry or annoyed. I wish I worried about the feelings of others who are at the blunt end of my words and actions when I act from impulse not thought due to frustration or anger or annoyance. I wish I spent the time worrying and wondering and figuring then.

But no, I worry kindness.

And give harshness free reign.

I've got that wrong.

Do me a favour, buy someone strawberries today.

You know who would like them.

You know who needs them.

So just do it.

Executive Functioning: Deliberate Indifference

Today we release the second issue of Executive Functioning: A Newsletter for Senior Leaders in Human Services - the topic is 'Deliberate Indifference' - if you'd like a copy, or to subscribe, simply email me at . Too, we are attaching NED talks to each newsletter (Network of Executive Directors) as you see above.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


At the intersection of Yonge and Bloor there are three pedestrian crossing possibilities. North <-> South. East <-> West. And then there's 'all ways' crossing where traffic is stopped in every direction and people can cross from whatever corner they are on to whichever one they wish to go. It's kind of cool when you get there and it's 'all ways' because it still feels kind of wrong going both North and East or South and West both at the same time.

Yesterday we were one of the cars stopped right at the crosswalk when the 'all ways' crossing blinked on. We saw a woman in a wheelchair with bright red hair; brightly multicoloured stilettos on her feet; fashionably cool clothing and with the most amazing cape draped over the chair behind her back. She entered the intersection and then wandered in a lazy kind of lovely meandering route. She looked to be simply enjoying the chair and enjoying her ride out and enjoying the opportunity to do a wheelchair ballet in the intersection. Joe had classical music playing on the radio and it was the perfect soundtrack to her movements.

She made it to the curb and continued on her way, the light changed, and we were off. But I was so glad that we had stopped there. I was so glad we had seen even for a few moments. She managed, in front of an audience of cars and fellow crossers, to demonstrate that wheelchairs free us. Free us to move. Free us to travel. And more than that ...

... free us to dance.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Started As a Blog: Ended as a Rant

I do not like Rob Ford's policies or politics.

I do not like Rob Ford's interactional style.

I did not and would not vote for Rob Ford.


That's clear.

Let me make something else clear.

I wish Rob Ford the best in dealing with his latest health scare.

I hope he does not have to drop out of the Mayor's race.

I send him and his family positive thoughts as they face a difficult time.


Now that's clear too.

I follow Toronto politics fairly closely, reading most articles in most papers about the various candidates and their positions regarding issues that matter to me and to other Torontonians. I sometimes, though not often, stray down into the comments section of a particular article. I always do this with trepidation because, WOW, can people be brutal. With Mr. Ford, the comments veer from the very nasty to the outrageously nasty. Pro and Con - both sides tear at each other.

With the health scare, though, I see so many people who either say outright or pretty clearly imply that Mr. Ford deserves the tumour he has been diagnosed with because of his weight. "He didn't take care of himself, he's fat, what did he expect?" is the essence of these kind of comments. There are a lot of these kind of comments.

It's clear that fat people don't deserve sympathy, they deserve blame.

It's clear that fat people ask for every bad thing that happens to them.

It's clear that fat people ultimately deserve some kind of punishment.

A lot of these kind of comments are written as if the writer thinks they are funny. They are not.

Others think they are original. They are not.

People tell me that I shouldn't pay attention to these kinds of comments and dismiss them as 'written by trolls' or that people are just 'trolling' or that people under the cloak of anonymity don't need to be taken seriously.

I disagree on all counts.

I think these comments are a good way to get a sense of what people think but don't say and feel but don't reveal. I think anyone in any social movement needs to read these as kind of a free glimpse into the reality of our social world.

Racism - alive and thriving.

Sexism - bigger and badder than ever.

Homophobia - white hot anger continues.

Ableism and Disphobia - disturbingly violent.

Fat prejudice - completely ubiquitous.

Rather than ignoring these kinds of comments, these kinds of attitudes, I think we need to use them to prepare ourselves to live in the world as it's truly socially constructed. But I think we also need to use them as a means of understanding how to target appropriate pathways to social change.

In my work with people with disabilities I am always careful to teach about the world as it is, and how to live safely in that world. It isn't an easy world to navigate but it becomes safer when you understand that it's unsurprising that teens would dump feces and urine and slop on the head of an autistic kid. Don't you read the comments about autism? Don't you read the ignorance in newspapers? Those kids need punishing, kids with autism need to be better prepared to live in a world where that is entirely possible to happen.

Parenting, or otherwise supporting people, of any age, with differences means that an awareness of the intolerance, nay, hatred, of difference in our social world needs to be part of that training. Learning how to mistrust - trust and mistrust as skills as much as they are feelings. Learning how and when to be non-compliant - non compliance is a skill not a behaviour. Learning how and when to use your voice - we don't give voice, we suppress voice, it's time to help people discover the voice they've had all along. These are the jobs we need to do.

Just read what people have to say about Mr. Ford to be reminded that people who are different DESERVE PUNISHMENT ... and you know exactly what we have to do in order for people to live freely and safely in the world.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Words Do What Words Do

I had a bucket of cold water thrown in my face the other day, and it was only partly because of an 'ALS' ice bucket challenge. I have watched a number of these and find them alternately funny, creative and moving. This one began with someone I know making a joke, wording approximate, about how someone had suggested he was a 'girly man' and that he was going to prove that he wasn't a 'girly man'. I stopped watching there. I grew up in a small mining town and tended towards what was called 'sissy' behaviour. I didn't like sports. I didn't like trucks. I didn't like rough and tumble play. I was called a 'girly boy' for several years and it is a term that, now I see, is offensive both to women and to gay men.

I left a comment, in the comment section, saying this. I felt it was a fair comment. After all the term was used, it was acknowledged that it was a negative term and there was clear need to prove that that term did not apply to the man in the video. Now, I know this guy, I know he would never intentionally hurt anyone, I know he doesn't have a homophobic nature, I know all those things. But. Words are words and words do what words do.

He was a total gentleman, and I mean that in the literal compound parts of the word - gentle man - about it. He called me up and apologized. Said he had no intent to hurt or to use terms that hurt. The next day the post was taken down. Simple.

Not so simple.

I have gotten, and still continue to get, messages on Facebook, where I saw the video, from people telling me to apologize and to ask for the videos return. I've politely said, 'no' and firmly said, 'no,' and am moving to an angrier, 'no.' I have been called thin skinned, I have been told that I'm over reacting, I've been told that I attacked this man and should apologize humbly and publicly and ask his forgiveness. No.

I told the fellow who made the video about this and he said that he was pleased to have had the comment and that he learned from it.

Well, clearly, others didn't.

What surprises me and disheartens me is that the people who are after me about this would be the same people who would be writing and commenting positively if I stood up to someone who used the 'r word' or someone who used a racial epithet. The same people. The very same people.

The same people who, if someone said, 'oh he didn't mean it that way,' about a star who used the 'r word' would not accept that as an acceptable reason for using the word. They know, in a different context, that words are words and words do what words do.

Why can't they simply see that it doesn't matter who a word hurts, it just matters that a word hurts?

It seems simple to me.

But, like a bucket of cold water in the face, I realized that for many, it's just not simple.

This all is especially sensitive to me right now, as I've written about, because I've had to see my doctor about ongoing pain that results because of my disability. As I wrote, a couple of days ago, all the 'girly boy' stuff has come back to haunt me and taunt me just for admitting publicly that I can no longer deal with the pain on my own, I need help. This morning, I received a message on Facebook about the incident with the video. I was a bit surprised because it's died down quite a bit and I thought it might be over.

Here is the text of the message: "Hey girly boy, where's the apology?"

Now this comes from someone, a professional woman, who does this without the cloak of anonymity. That's how deep the anger was towards me for having spoken up, and more probably because I spoke up to a particular person.

The intent of the message was to hurt me.

I am surprised to say, it didn't. It shocked me. It appalled me. It annoyed me. But it didn't hurt me. Over the last weeks dealing with physical pain, dealing with my own history of being taught that men don't feel or admit to pain, of being taught that only sissies need help.

Well, this sissy needed help, this sissy asked for help, and this sissy says, "sling your shit at someone else, cause you can't hurt me any more."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Oh. Shit. Sorry.

After a meeting, one of the women hung back a bit and then told me that she is dealing with a medical situation that is slowly leading to her needing the use of a wheelchair. We talked about that for a bit and then she asked me how I found my wheelchair. Her question was like pushing the button to launch a rocket.

I told her that adapting to the wheelchair would be much easier than she might imagine. Her world would get bigger not smaller, she'd be able to do things and go places that, right now, might seem unimaginable. Learning to negotiate around people and other barriers would become second nature to her. If you can manage to walk, you can manage to roll.

She looked at me, with what I thought was interest. So. I continued.

I told her about the social change. People would perceive her differently. I gave a few examples about 'disappearance' from the social sphere, about loss of voice. I told her that, for me, I had to really be ready to be assertive, not aggressive, so that I would be considered in interactions, that I would be 'seen' in line ups, that I would be 'heard' in placing my order at a restaurant. Managing a wheelchair was one thing, managing the social aspect was another. But, I reassured her, that she had all the skills necessary to assert herself as a person with a disability because she had learned to assert herself as a woman in business.

I was done but she still looked at me with interest. So. Of course. I continue.

I told her about choosing a wheelchair based on it's 'rollability' and told her the test I used when buying a chair. I talked to her about the various kinds of barriers the chair would face, carpet being a big one. Other physical barriers would also need to be considered, she needed to think about the width of the chair and the width of her doors at home. The wheelchair would open up her world but it would also close down some of it too.

I was running out of things to say, but she was still looking at me. So. I stopped.

She said, "I meant where did you buy it?"

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Pain Times Two

Tomorrow looms large in my mind. I'm going to have my first discussion with my doctor about pain management. I've not really talked to him much about pain, mostly our visits have focused on issues other than anything directly related to my disability. I don't know where the reticence I have about seeking help for dealing with pain comes from. I don't know why it bothers me so much. Pain is simply pain, I know that. Asking for help to manage the pain is, or should be, simply a logical next step.

But for me.



I had hoped that by making the appointment the pain would just go away, the way a toothache disappears in a dentists waiting room. But, it didn't. It's been mostly manageable. But just mostly. I've startled Joe sometimes with a sharp intake of breath when the pain gets difficult to bear. He's not said but I know he's glad that I'm going to see about getting some help.

My wheelchair helps me get around, I see that.

The grab bars in the bathroom helps me stay clean.

The reacher that sits beside my desk make the floor accessible.

All those are fine for me.

Why is this bothering me so much?

I grew up in a small mining town where men were men! The worst thing you could be called, as a boy, was a 'sissy' or a 'girly boy'. I was called those. Often. I didn't like boy things, like trucks, dirt and baseball. I learned that boys didn't cry. I learned that boys didn't admit to pain. Break your leg? Shake it off man! These lessons were taught often and failure to learn lead to social punishment of the highest order. You could shame your family by crying in public.

Maybe all these years later I'm still fleeing from the idea of my 'sissy-hood' ... even though I don't buy into those stereotypes. Even though I know that the term 'girly boy' is equally offensive to women and to men. Even though I know that pain is just pain and help is just help. I can't help but feel that tomorrow, in asking, I will somehow be less.

Sexism hurts everyone.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Tale of Two Tickets

Sometimes being disabled take just so much time and so much work. Let me give you an example. Joe and I wanted to make reservations for a special dinner show. I went to the web site, scanned it for information. All I wanted to know was simply, is the venue accessible? I went to the FAQ section and found tons of information but none that told me if I could get in, and if  got in could I get to a table and if I got to a table, would I be able to use the 'toilet facilities' while there. Nothing. NADA. Not. A. Word.

Oft times I give up at this point. Let me rephrase, I decide to 'boycott' (that sounds better) because if you can't be bothered to put relevant information on your website, why should I both coming. But really, I usually just give up. But this time, we wanted to go fairly badly, so I went to the contact us tab. Here there don't give you an email address to write, which is often the case, you have to fill out this long form giving them your name, your address, your phone number and your email address before you can fill in the little box with your question. That seems like a lot of personal information to be giving away when you just want to know if you can pee in their toilet.

So that done. I got an email back telling me that I just needed to put 'wheelchair access' onto their on line form for a reservation. OK. Good to know. I set about to do that, have the form nearly filled in when I go for 'special accomidations' and find that I can select either 'wheelchair access' or 'vegetarian meal' but not both. Wheelchair users simply can't be vegetarian on this form. I decide I'll call them the next day.

Now three days after first trying to make a reservation, I call. The woman is very nice and let's me talk first about how there should be information on accessibility on their website, that there should be multiple choices offered on the site for people with disabilities. That done, it's kind of obligatory isn't it, I was even kind of bored saying it. It was all done over the phone with the woman helping me. She was tremendously nice and provided a LOT of information about accessibility and seating, answering all my questions with ease.

We got the tickets. Yeah! But it took, time, effort and determination. Again, my disability is one thing but the needless barriers that we face as disabled people can just be freaking exhausting.

Now that we have tickets, we both wonder, what happens next. Because, accessibility seems to be a word with many definitions doesn't it?