Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Face, Their Future

Yesterday I had to go north to Canadian Tire to get air in my tires. On the way there we stopped at the bank and I decided, which is very unlike me, to not go in. I wanted to just pull my chair off to the side and sit outside in the warm embrace of summer. I got myself positioned and then just people watched. A great way to kill time and, as it's a busy area, the flow of people was endless.

Now, before I continue, I need to tell you that I am very aware of my face. An odd thing to say, no? Well, I am. I have a face that at rest looks angry or disapproving or judgemental or hostile. I have no control over this. I was born with an angry face. In fact, I am seldom angry. That might be a surprise to you who've read this blog over the years, but remember I only post stories that are a very, very small part of my day. So, I know, before an interaction happens that my face may, all on it's own, be giving messages that I am unaware of.

So, back to the flow of people going by. I noticed a young couple holding hands. They were just a shade over twenty, I'd guess, and they held hands tightly. I've noticed more and more LGBT couples holding hands in the downtown core, and I've also noticed that gay people simply don't hold hands like straight people do. Straight people hold hands simply as an act of affection that they expect that everyone will see and not only approve but laud. So there is an ease with which fingers touch fingers. There is a lightness to the touch.

This couple, both pretty young women, held on as if the wind might suddenly yank them apart. They held on as if they were walking through dangerous terrain. And, of course, they are. I imagine we are still years away from same gendered couples can hold hands lightly, breezily, tenderly. I saw in their movements the affection they held for each other, I saw in their hands an act of tenderness, outrageous tenderness. Tenderness as an act of defiance. Tenderness as a political act of declaration. Tenderness as an act of love.

It will not surprise you to know that my reaction was one of complete pleasure. Good on them. Good for them. I was proud of who they were and what they were doing. So, perhaps, my gaze lingered a bit.

And that's when my face got in the way.

The woman closest to me said to me, with quiet anger, "We have every right to walk together holding hands."

I held my hands up and said, quickly, "No, no, I think it's lovely. I'm an old gay man and I never thought I'd see the day where this could happen. I'm just so pleased."

"You looked angry," she said, softening as she explained her tone.

"My face is one of those faces that look disapproving, give me a wimple and I'd look like Mother Superior on a rampage."

She laughed, "You must be gay if you know what a wimple is!"

They were on their way, smiling.

I thought, afterwards, that I understood that quiet, ready anger that she carried with her. Though I'm not angry often, I an not unfamiliar with using anger when necessary and when it was the appropriate tool for self defence. I am not unfamiliar with the dangers that come with declarations of a right to space, a right to love and a right to be. I am not unfamiliar at all.

Two young women took to the streets, in love, and holding hands to assert that love, and assert their right to space and assert their right to simply be.

I was, and am, a little in awe of them.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Wave

What did he expect?

We got to the movie theatre about 15 minutes before the doors opened. Several other patrons arrived around the same time as we did. Amongst them was a young fellow, early twenties, with cool clothes and a stylish backpack. He was by himself and adopted a pose with indicated that he wasn't waiting for anyone. Like everyone else who arrived, we all nodded with each other but, typically for city dwellers, no one started a conversation.

When the doors opened, everyone rushed in, Joe and I waited for the space to clear and then entered ourselves. By the time we got to the front of the line for tickets, we were near the last left in the lobby. I got a cup of tea and a small popcorn, Joe a small Cola. We took our goodies and went to find the theatre.

When we entered we found an empty room, with the exception of the fellow with the backpack. He'd sat, on the aisle, second row from the back. In this theatre the two back rows are shortened rows so that wheelchair seating could be made available. We took the back row, immediately behind him, and fussed around a bit until my chair was parked and popcorn and drinks sorted.

You know the thing about being in an empty theatre and then someone coming and sitting next to you? Well, this was the disability version of the same thing. I had one option for a seat, and took it, apologetically.

His discomfort with us being right behind him was palpable. He squirmed and glanced back at us with annoyance.

I profess now to be a horrible person.

I kinda took a little pleasure in his discomfort. He knew that there was someone there with a disability, he knew that he was sitting beside wheelchair seating. I'm guessing he just thought we were there to see a different movie in a different salon. He played seating roulette - and lost.

Finally he launches himself out of his seat in a great huff and storms out of the theatre. I find this very, very, funny. A few seconds before the lights go down he comes back in and sits several rows up, in the middle. He glances back at us, again with annoyance.

And ... I couldn't help it.

I waved.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Camp, Campers, and Public Safety

A Letter To Summer Camp Counsellors / Staff:

What is your job? Really, when it get down to the basics, what are you charged with doing? Many of you might say, 'ensuring the kids have a good time,' and you'd be right, that's one aspect of your job, but it's not the primary, basic, part of the job of Camp Counsellor. The first priority of your job is to keep the children in your care safe. Everything else comes from that. I know this because I was once, in my youth, a camp counsellor.

Yes, safety is the primary goal. But you need to define safety quite broadly. Safe from harm, obviously. Safe from being bullied or excluded by others, much less obviously. And, you have a responsibility to keep members of the public safe when you take the kids out for a field trip somewhere, anywhere.

Field trip?



I can hear those questions rising in your minds. Let me give you an example. I went somewhere yesterday, one of Toronto's big tourist attractions, because I was taking friends there. When we arrived there were thousands upon thousands of children everywhere. They were all wearing matching coloured tee shirts announcing that they were part of a camp. I thought, upon seeing the tee shirts, that I'll be OK because the kids were in small groups and those groups were under supervision.

Here's two things that happened:

I was looking at a display monitor that had a touch screen that allowed me to access more information. Suddenly there appeared on the other side of a screen, a boy about 8. He stood there, and simply stared at me. His eyes running up and down my body taking it all in. It's incredibly invasive, these kind of full body scans. His camp counsellor was standing about six inches away from him, looking at another display. Clearly the counsellor forgot that he wasn't there to see the display he was there to supervise children. I finally said, kindly, "Please go look at something else, you are making me uncomfortable." He didn't move. But the counsellor did. He came and took him by the hand and guided him away. A glance of annoyance thrown my way was the CC's only interaction with me at all.


Like I was supposed to let the kid do what he was doing. Like I was supposed to stop being a visitor and become an exhibit. Like, because he was a kid, I should let him do it.

Later, that same day, Joe and I were near ready for lunch. We were leaving a room into which a tsunami of children were crashing in. There were a group of 5 girls, maybe 10, who landed right in front of my wheelchair and right behind them was their CC. The girls, as if I could neither see them or hear them, began laughing at me because of my 'big fat belly'. I let this go on for a second, waiting for intervention, I looked to the CC who didn't even notice it. I don't know where she was but she wasn't at work. I have something I use, rarely, only in emergencies: my mother's look. My mother could stop a raging stampede of buffalo with her look. I pulled it out dusted it off and gave them the look. They stopped. "I can see you, you know," I said, calmly but firmly, "I can hear you, too. What I see and hear are rude young women. You know better than to laugh at people. You are just mean bullies and I have no respect for people who hurt other people. Get out of my way."

My statement, not loud, not angry, just firm, caught the ear of the CC who was shocked. The girls were completely silent, and a little upset, as the opened a space between them to let me through. I left, told Joe that I was weary of being there, and we headed out.

The subject of bullying and social violence is not a new one. Camp Counsellors probably work hard, or I hope they do, that kids don't bully kids in their programs. But when they are taking these kids into public, in a diverse city like Toronto, they need to be aware that there are people with differences and with disabilities that walk the street - in full daylight. Those same people with differences and with disabilities might even actually go to museums and galleries and tourist places. That being the case, isn't it the job of the camp to have policies about the safety of the public when the children are in public places? Isn't it the job of the camp counsellors to prepare the kids for what to do when they see someone who is different? Can't they be taught the skills for knowing what to do when they encourage human diversity?

And should that teaching fail, isn't it the job of the Camp Counsellor to be alert to the behaviour of those in their charge? Shouldn't they be ready to intervene? Isn't that their job? The safety of the kids, the safety of others who share space with those kids?

Well, I tell you, it's not my job to intervene. I'll tell you too, it's hard to intervene when you are being targeted by anyone. Being openly stared at, or openly mocked, isn't easier to deal with because the kids are between 8 and 10 - everyone says that kids don't understand but I know they do. So, I restrain my annoyance and even anger, and use the calm voice I've developed over the years. But it's work. A lot of work. And I don't believe in this instance that it's my work to do. It's yours, Camp Counsellors.

So do it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bullies, Bigots and Buffoons, Oh My


 (Photo Description: Gretchen Josephson, poet, sits looking off to the right, listening hard to what's being said.)

"Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have a choice." That's what Richard Dawkins, a geneticist who is also billed, by Wikipedia as a both an ethologist and an evolutionary biologist said in answer to a question. When asked by a pregnant woman about the the possibility her foetus had Down Syndrome, he responded quickly and, somewhat brutally telling her to abort it. He later, when the predicted flood-gates of protest opened, gave a half apology. In that apology he said:

"If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down's baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child's own welfare"

Photo Description: Raymond Hu, wearing a suit and glasses.

He, wonderful man that he is, worries about the child's welfare. He states later that we have a duty to reduce. He wants to reduce suffering. SUFFERING. Anyone read that survey that showed 99 percent of people with Down Syndrome when interviewed, say that they are happy? But their voices would be discounted wouldn't they. They might have the lived experience of having Down Syndrome - but poor dears, the experience is wasted on them, they wouldn't understand. A person with an intellectual disability is always assumed to be incompetent when they disagree with authority.

Photo Description: Grainy photo of Sandra Jensen, she is smiling, wearing glasses and the sun is shining on her.

Firstly, let's remember that people with disabilities are a wide a varied group, there are poetspaintersactorsactivistsmusicians and, yes, even politicians. The ideas of who people with disabilities are come from stereotypes when we limited who people with Down Syndrome could be. Remember, always remember, that this is the first generation of people with Down Syndrome who have grown up without being in the shadow of large institutions. The first to experience schooling.The first to experiencing live in the mainstream. Oh, there were brave parents who kept their kids home and fought the good fight to get us where we are now - but it is this generation that is benefiting from that fight.

Photo Description: Edward Barbanell, wearing a shirt and tie and smiling at the camera.

The one think that Dawkins said that I can totally agree with is that we need to make choices that reduce human suffering. Well, I would ask him, how can he make a callous suggestion that people with disabilities are born to immoral parents, (for an atheist that comes awful close to the idea that people with disabilities were born as punishment to sinful parents) and not realize that HE is inflicting suffering.

Photo Description: Emmanuel Joseph Bishop wearing a tux and playing the violin.

It is attitudes and language like his that cause hurt and pain and anger. People in positions of power think that they have a right to bully and to bigotry and to loathsome buffoonery.  It is prejudice that hurts Mr. Dawkins. It is opinion based on ignorance that hurts Mr. Dawkins. It's the wilful propagation of attitudes that lead to social violence and societal exclusion that hurts, Mr. Dawkins. This comes from someone who wants to reduce suffering!

Photo Description: Stephen Green, after winning his election, looking at the camera satisfied.

There is a simple solution to this. Sit down, meet some folks with Down Syndrome, speak to their families and until you do this, simply, shut up.

In the simple act of shutting up you will increase the happiness of those of us with disabilities and decrease the amount of ignorant and hurtful twaddle that gets spewed about a people who when asked, not by you of course, if they are happy, say yes. When asked if they are suffering say no.

(photo description: 6 little girls in Disney Princess costumes.  

By the royal decree of 6 powerful princesses, we must all reduce suffering by reducing prejudice and ignorance and arrogance.

There's a challenge Mr. Dawkins.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Dog's Valued Life: I'm Envious

Before I write a single word, I want it made abundantly clear that I love dogs. Like everyone else I saw and read the stories about the dog with the 3D wheelchair, I even ooo'd and ah'd at the cute pictures of TurboRoo. As I read the stories about the dog, I read them from the point of view of a 'dog enthusiast' not from a 'disability' point of view. After all I've written about disabled dogs before. I think that there are lots of lessons to be learned from watching a three legged dog chase a ball. Dogs with disabilities just get on with being dogs. It doesn't seem to even much notice that it's doing things differently it just does things differently. So, as I've written this before, thought this before, I didn't think about it now, reading these stories.
It was only after this picture appeared that something happened that jarred my focus back on to the disability aspect of this whole thing. Someone, a few months back 'slipped,' and made the 'rather be dead than in a wheelchair' statement in front of me about someone else. There were the requisite apologies and the 'I didn't mean that.' Like words don't mean what they say when they are in front of me, but mean what they say when I'm not there. Without question it changed the nature of our relationship. A cooling down of affection I suppose.

So, when I heard her voice on the phone, I was surprised, not that she called, but at the burst of energy that came through the phone. She was calling to ask me if I'd seen the picture of the dog with the 3D wheelchair and how cool it was, and isn't it great that the dog has been given so much freedom. Yada. Yada. Yada. I said that I loved the idea too but that she didn't need to call about it, I had already accepted her apology and she didn't have to demonstrate that 'she didn't mean it.' She was startled. She blurted out, 'this is about a dog, not a person.'



It's cool that a dog has a wheelchair. It's tragic that a human has one.


Then I reread the articles about the dog. Not one. Not one. That's NOT ONE of the stories referred to the dog being 'wheelchair bound.' All the stories talked about the dog having a new lease on life and freedom to move. Look at this headline:B.C. Man Makes Boating Accessible To the Wheelchair Bound. Nice huh.

The Dog Is Free.

We Are Bound.

I can't understand why, when we, as disabled people, have made it clear that the term 'wheelchair bound' is prejudicial and just plain freaking inaccurate, that it persists so strongly in the media. It's like they like how readers without disabilities react to these words so fuck the concerns of those who actually experience wheelchair use.

So everyone is pleased that a dog with a significant disability is using a wheelchair getting a chance at freedom and a quality life, while parents who kill children with disabilities are 'doing the right thing' or 'doing the understandable thing.'


That's all I can say.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Casual Cruetly

He was struggling. No question. Struggling. He looked to be a man, once employed doing something he was good at, who is now waiting tables to earn a living, feed his family. I have nothing to base this on except the way he carried himself, how hard he tried, and the way his mistakes caused him a kind of personal pain. He worked his tables as hard as he could and he came across like a nice guy wanting to make sure people had a nice evening. But. He was struggling.

At the table next to us was a table of young people in their early twenties. They were laughing, joking and having a good time. Every now and then some of their conversation floated over our way and it was clear that this was a group who's humour was one part 'unrestrained anonymous comment' and one part 'I'm just kidding, really.' Dangerous ground to be in for a newcomer I'd think, but they seem to be navigating it really well. For me, I was just glad that when they saw me, I didn't become a topic of their 'humour.'

Music was playing. I made a mental note of the song, I know you'd know it. It was one of those hugely successful but immediately forgettable pop songs that come along every now and then. It had a catchy beat and fun lyrics, made to sing along in the car while driving on long trips. I didn't have a piece of paper, I didn't have a pen. I thought I'd commit it to memory. But the thing about immediately forgettable pops songs is that they are, as one would expect, immediately forgettable.

While the song played, the group, mockingly, got musical. Some sang along on the lyrics, some pretend danced in their seats. I was close up, I could see they were dismissive of the song and thought it bad enough to have earned ridicule.

The waiter, trying hard, came by noticed them dancing, singing and laughing, came to check if everything was OK and in doing so said that he'd loved that song when it came out. There was a frosty pause for a moment and then everyone burst out laughing. The fact that he'd been made a fool of hit his face, hard. He held on to his dignity and walked stiffly away from the table. His nickname at the table became 'Mister Music Man.'

Cruelty flowed his way.

I had just decided to do something when another waiter came to their table, said something quietly, and then continued to serve the group. I don't know what the waiter said, but the certainly had no nick name for her. He continued on with us, he seemed more relaxed the last half of the meal. I wonder if it's because he realized that he had a supportive team, that he wasn't in it alone, that the community of waiters supported each other and watched out for each other. I don't know ... but he seemed, different, after that had happened.

Since there is such cruelty in our social environments these days. Since bullying is a cause that people rally around but actually do little about. Since many of us simply don't know what to do in a situation. Maybe we can become small communities that watch out for each other. That confront those that need confrontation. It's not always the victims responsibility to educate those that feel free to bully.

Maybe we need to do what we can to keep those who learn the ways of cruelty from the freedom of anonymous comments contained to words they type in front of a screen - and not have it become a way of interacting when we are anonymous in other social environments.

Casual cruelty ... those two words, together, terrify me. I couldn't act this time. I will the next. It's my pledge to myself and to the fight for a civil society.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


We needed to pick something up quickly and so we stopped at your friendly neighbourhood behemoth superstore. It was to be a quick in and out, often I stay in the van because it takes so long to untie me and get the power chair unloaded. But, I wanted to go in so we took the time. I zipped on in as Joe parked the car. I went to the electronics section to pick up a new DVD player while others went to get groceries and stuff. We watch a lot of DVD sets so we wear them out over time.

I found one, met up with everyone and then we double checked our various lists and headed to the check out. I got our stuff, our teller was quick, and I scooted ahead towards the door. I found myself behind an elderly couple. She walked very slowly, using a walker, in the walker's basket she had an oxygen tank and she had the plastic tubing under her nose. We went through the first of two exit doors. The store was pretty aggressive with their signage telling us all NOT to exit through the entrance.

Once through the first set of doors and headed to the exit that lead right out into the parking lot, they noticed, as did I, that the entrance door was wide open. She veered away from her path and went out through the entrance door. He continued on, and I followed, through the exit. When we got out she turned to him and said, "Just because I'm a cripple doesn't mean I can't still be badass!" They both laughed heartily and went on their way.

I'm guessing that's why they are still together and still looking happy.

A sense of humour gets you through most anything.

Even the wrong door.