Complicit with the unbearable lightness of privilege (see previous blog), oppression is a constant burden. Like privilege, when unacknowledged by the oppressed, it becomes a fact of life unquestioned and unchallenged as it is unknown. Instead of manifesting in lightness, oppression is weight. As I think I have made clear, I fall in the privileged category. I do not know oppression first-hand in any way, shape, or form. I have merely observed it through my upbringing and my work and I have read and learned about it as a way of deepening my understanding of my own privilege.
I fought against it every day when I worked with youth. The depth and breadth of assumptions and judgments they had about their own poverty, blackness, age, and even neighborhood were stunning and troubling – even to someone who thought himself enlightened. In fact, their internalized negative assumptions were the ultimate barrier not only to achieving the dreams they still had individually (their oppression yet only partially internalized) but also to the improvement of our schools and community. Their oppression was both individual and structural, implicit in their schools and community and fueling their early process of internalization. We had to start our work with every young person by helping them think critically about what they had internalized and how that impacted the choices they made and the opportunities they sought. Internalized oppression changes the way we dream. I recall one simple and brief conversation with a young woman who lived in public housing in a rather chaotic family situation who had told me she wanted to be a dental hygienist. I told her I thought that was great and asked her why she wanted to do that. As she talked, she expressed a broad interest in dentistry, the science, the business, the people. So, I asked without thinking why she didn’t want to become a dentist rather than a dental hygienist. It left her somewhat dumbfounded, which left me dumbfounded. It had never crossed her mind. It was the first thing that crossed mine.
Aside from this rather simple example, our work trying to liberate each other of our oppressions (and privilege for me) was often brutal work and had to be done in a safe way and in a manner in which we had time and space to deal with anger and confusion and more questions that it spurred for them about themselves, about the adults in their lives, the systems that were supposedly there to support them. As they became more critical and more liberated, they also began to feel that burden of oppression more fully. We were externalizing it. They went from living but never seeing it to seeing it everywhere they turned, while still living it. This was powerful work, but it was dangerous work. These youth needed to see their oppression so they could begin to liberate themselves from it, reclaim power from it, but it wasn’t something we could immediately just go out and change. We had to start small and individual and work from there.
While all of my youth and most of my community could point at and name experiences where they were treated differently because of their race, or their age, or their perceived income or whatever, they mostly processed those at the level of the interaction, focusing on the individual experience. They never saw the system that was supporting their marginalization; the structures that consistently and persistently delivered the same type of negative message for everyone like them. One of the stories we used to help process this growing awareness of systemic and institutional forces was the Parable of the Boiling Frog. While simple and fairly grotesque, the Parable of the Boiling Frog illustrates the fact that a frog that is dropped into boiling water will scramble for its life to get out. This obviously makes sense to most of us and is how we would react to such pain or danger. On the other hand, if that frog is dropped into room temperature water that slowly rises to a boil, it will never even try to escape. The frog will make incremental adaptations to survive the environment that ultimately leads to its death.
This is the story of internalized oppression. We adapt to messages about our worth, about our possibility, about the quality of our character or our family or community one message at a time. And, when those messages all align in a way that consistently and persistently tells us we are lesser then we begin to believe we are lesser. At some point, we accept the fact that we are lesser. We accept our slow death without ever even recognizing it.
So, how do we get out of that slowly boiling pot? Even as personal enlightenment and liberation unfold, the systems and structures of oppression are generations in the making and will be generations in the dismantling. Just because we liberate our minds doesn’t mean the systems are ready to change. We have to transform our personal liberation into something that impacts the world around us. Lest we become overwhelmed by this responsibility, we must remind ourselves that we have the chance to impact the world not just through grand social actions but through every interaction. We have the power to open hearts with every conversation, liberate minds by modeling our own liberation, by putting our own challenges and development out there for others to see, to find solace and motivation in.
image from: https://www.shapeways.com/product/J5WVPUPLB/triple-gear
Those of us who are privileged wear our privilege like a feather; not like a feather in a cap or some showy accessory, but like a tiny feather left on our shoulder after we take off a down-filled winter coat. A feather we don’t notice, we didn’t put there, we don’t feel. A white feather.
For us even to notice its presence requires a good look in the mirror (a mere glance typically won’t do it), or for someone to point it out for us. When we see it, this white feather, this privilege, we wonder who else noticed it. How long has it been there? Where did it come from? Why haven’t we noticed it before?
Privilege is weightless for the privileged. Or, at least, privilege unnoticed, unnamed, or unaccepted is weightless for the privileged. Weightlessness is implicit to privilege because the weight of our privilege is being borne by those who aren’t. For them, our small, white, weightless feather carries the burdens of history, oppression, exclusion, and so much more. For them, the weight of our feather is often unbearable.
So, what happens when we privileged start to understand this weight, even as we haven’t previously felt it or carried it for ourselves? When someone exposes our privilege, the weightlessness of that feather begins to change. When the social and cultural systems that have upheld our privilege and distributed its weight to others begin to evolve, that feather becomes a symbol of things we never knew or understood about ourselves.
We feel embarrassed. Shamed. Confused. Indignant. Humbled. Angry. Lost. Defensive.
The shifting of what was previously weightless can rattle the core identity of the white male who believes he is supposed to dominate politics, the boardroom, the factory floor, or household, but no longer feels so dominant. This shifting antagonizes and undermines the singularity of one religious narrative, creating space for other beliefs, valuing dialogue over dogma. It surfaces and challenges our judgment and pity of those less fortunate, those with disabilities, those with mental illness. Suddenly, this soft, feathery lightness of privilege rips violently at the meaning and history of our whiteness, maleness, faith, socio-economic status, gender identity, mental and physical abilities.
It shakes our foundation, and we don’t typically like our foundation being shaken. After all, we are standing on it.
And, when this happens, we privileged choose one of two paths forward: we grow and evolve given this enlightenment, rebuilding a broader and stronger foundation, or we retrench and defend our pre-enlightenment state and cling to our past, now fractured, foundation.
The struggle between these two paths is real and is on display every day. Just watch the news. Listen to the political and economic discourse. Watch the rallies. Observe the angst in our own communities and schools.
But, here’s the deal: denial of privilege is just that. It doesn’t make it not true. The feather is there. Most of us see it. And, yes, it is moving.
The question is: will we privileged begin to shoulder its weight or use our privilege to continue to push that burden onto others?
“If you don’t feel you fit in, then you’re not going to stay around.”
These were the simple words offered by Tim Shriver at a dropout prevention conference I attended earlier this year. And, while Tim is known for his work with Special Olympics more broadly and specifically with Project UNIFY as it relates to inclusive education, his statement captures something fundamentally human. It applies to teams, schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. It basically applies wherever more than one person is gathered.
So, what does it mean to fit in?
1. You understand the rules and norms and feel a part of them. Every group, community, or even ad hoc gathering of people has rules and norms that guide and inform its function and purpose. Some are stated. Some are not. Almost all are culturally informed and guided by experiences (or lack thereof) of race, class, gender, physical and intellectual ability, and many other variables. Unless you are explicitly part of creating norms (or at least have the opportunity to understand and accept them explicitly), there’s a good chance you won’t feel a part of them.
2. Your strengths are as present as your weaknesses. You can see and articulate both what value you add to a group and what things you know you need to work on. You receive (and learn how to process) feedback from others accordingly. Alternately, you can identify the strengths of others without jealousy and their weaknesses without judgment.
3. You feel accepted for who you are. You don’t have to be like others, but instead your differences are acknowledged, accepted, and celebrated. Our differences are our common connection. NOTE: Acceptance should not be confused with its committed-but-less-invested cousin tolerance.
4. Your opinions matter. Your opinion does not have to be acted upon or even accepted as correct all the time. You just need to know someone listens to you and shows you that they take what you say seriously, whether they agree with it or not.
5. You have the same opportunities as others around you – opportunities that match your interests and abilities. As I have written before, presenting an opportunity doesn’t make it an opportunity. We all need the support, tools, and pathways to claim opportunities for them to feel like real opportunities to us.
6. You can fail successfully. I really don’t want to pontificate here about how failure is required for success. But, you do need to know you can “fail forward” and understand, and know that others understand, that this is what it means to be human.
7. Your effort is respected even if your outcomes are not perfect. In honor of Tim Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver who coined it, I’ll share the motto of Special Olympics: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
8. You can banter. Banter is something often not understood by someone outside of a group. So, the ability to talk nonsense, laugh at old jokes, verbally spar with others in good fun, and just riff on ideas and conversations can prove that the most meaningless content can generate the most meaningful connections.
So, as leaders, whether we want to retain students in our schools, talented employees in our office, or valued members in our communities, we need to start with processes, policies, and practices that help them fit in.
Tell them about the Dream
As we prepare to celebrate and reflect on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, I have been reading articles and seeing special reports on TV about the “I Have a Dream” speech. And, while I have heard most of it before in some form or another, things have struck me a bit differently this year.
So the story goes: as Dr. King started to wrap up his remarks, he had delivered a solid speech (for him), which would undoubtedly make it the finest any of the rest of us might ever hope to deliver. But, there was a sense with him, and perhaps with others around him, that as he concluded his planned 4-minute speech, he hadn’t yet “nailed” it.
And then Mahalia Jackson chimed in from his side: “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Apparently, not once but twice, Mahalia urged: “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
Dreams are funny things. They can take us to distant places and liberate our minds and hearts. And yet, the dream untenable can trap us and leave us more hopeless and feeling more stuck in our current reality than ever. As Langston Hughes ruminated on a dream deferred: “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”
Dreams in reality can be as demoralizing as they are liberating.
So, I have been reflecting on Dr. King’s dream to better understand the nature of dreams that become liberating:
It wasn’t that Dr. King had a dream; it’s that we did and he spoke it into being. He tapped into our collective experiences and timely sense of possibility and a pathway to change. He pulled the dream out of our hearts and minds and put it into our hands.
Maybe for the sake of our families, schools, workplaces, and communities, we should all be better about sharing our dreams.
Perhaps even more importantly, maybe we should all be like Mahalia Jackson urging others along: “Tell them about the dream.”
Masterpieces for Autism
When I paint, I think a lot about how the materials work and how I work the materials. These are two distinct parts of the painting experience as well as my experience of life. The latter is about managing and controlling the material. The former is about creating spaces and opportunities for the materials to become what they will. It’s about relinquishing control and traditional expectations in the name of exploration and learning. It’s about knowing a little, and watching a lot.
Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. The question is how do I continue as the artist to learn about the materials so that I can create environments and opportunities for the materials to leverage their attributes and to achieve their unique possibilities.
For me, as someone who has family and friends with autistic children, I can only look from the outside at the challenges and opportunities related to raising a child with autism. But, this painting process for me is a metaphor for how I see and understand the world in which I want to raise my own child, an inclusive world where risk may feel heightened, but reward can be something we have never conceived, a world we cannot manage into existence but must explore and be vigilant when its unique beauty presents itself.
originally published as an artist statement
Life in 3D
I learned in my first sculpture class in college that a three dimensional piece of sculpture communicates and interacts with its viewer in all three dimensions. (This seems somewhat obvious, I guess, but it’s not that simple.) In other words, a sculpture’s depth, width, and height (along with other elements like color, texture, and movement, that live on that depth, width, and height) each communicate based on the relative size, viewing position, and experience of the viewer as he engages the sculpture. So, if you are trying to communicate and create a relationship with a viewer through the experience of a sculpture, you had better consider it fully in three dimensions.
Herein lies a beautiful nugget of wisdom about life. We obviously live in (at least) three dimensions; so, our experiences and interactions all exist in (at least) three dimensions. (Time can be considered a fourth.) But, as we interact, process, and learn from our world, I wonder if we truly consider it in all three dimensions. Do we truly explore our world from all angles, or just continually process it from one vantage point, that of our own personal experience and comfort-level? Do we communicate in 3D? Do we observe in 3D?
To push my personal development (I typically write these blogs to increase my own mindfulness), I propose a three dimensional frame for processing my communication, relationships, and experiences:
Dimension 1: Direct experience - my experience of a relationship, image, event, circumstance, etc. This is the “I” dimension.
Dimension 2: Divergent perspectives - others’ experiences of a relationship, image, event, circumstance, etc. The “you” dimension.
Dimension 3: Determining the implications: The interactions between and implications of dimensions 1 and 2. The “we” dimension.
To truly understand my direct experience, I must be willing and able to reflect on and analyze my own perceptions and responses to various stimuli. I need to be able to identify the emotions that are, or are not, involved in my experience. I need to understand what the experience means to me and how or why it either resonates or does not. I need to clarify the messages I receive as I understand them and see how they mesh with the messages I perceive to have been intended. Finally, I must try to identify what piece of myself I project on my perception of others’ intentions. Whether it is a personal relationship, a piece of art, a life event, or even a story or commercial on television, my experience is biased by who I am, how I understand the world, and even where I am at the given moment of the experience. It is neither objective nor absolute.
This is why being open to the second dimension (divergent perspectives) is so critical: it’s the same complex web for the “other” experiencing the very same relationship, piece of art, life event, or television commercial. They bring all of their junk to it too! It is their “I” experience. If we are to communicate and relate genuinely, we must understand, or at least empathize with (we still don’t have to like), each other’s “I” experience and some of the individual bases for our respective understanding of that experience. In a world so desperately seeking political, economic, and moral truths, we have to realize that at its essence there is not ever a truly common experience; there is no fundamental truth at the level of human interaction. All perspectives and experiences are at some level divergent. The “I” experience and the “you” experience are never exactly the same. So, if we are to expand our lives to living in a second dimension, we must focus not merely on understanding the event, but understanding the experience of the event by others.
So, let’s pretend for a moment that each of us is truly invested in understanding the other, committed to living in the second dimension. Now, we have to understand how our unique and divergent experiences impact the nature of our relationship, and in return, our subsequent experiences of dimensions 1 and 2. We have to determine the interactions between and implications of “I” and “you” on “we”. This third dimension is the space between you and I that, while dependent on each of us, also generates its own dynamics and has its own independent characteristics. Candidly, unless you live in complete isolation, the world of “we” is the “real” world, and most of the challenges of this “we” dimension lie in our failures to deeply engage the “I” and “you” dimensions. We often fail to acknowledge that this relational dimension is a new and distinct entity – a sculpture perhaps.
While our lives are a process of constant ebb and flow and our identity and relational dimensions are always in flux, we can deepen who we are and how we are with the world by engaging a three dimensional process of communication and understanding. We can improve our communication, strengthen our understanding of the world around us, and even create new life through new relationships by being mindful that we do, in fact, live in 3D.
Pablo Picasso was the preeminent artist of the 20th century and his genius shook the art world from hundreds of years of tradition and sent it in new and profound directions. If you have ever seen a Picasso exhibit that includes his earliest work (I am thinking of a portrait he painted at age 13) you know that his technical skill was genius. He could render a self-portrait at 13 that defied understanding. His skill and technical ability at an early age were equivalent to those working at the highest level of the academy. And yet, this is not the genius for which he is known; a genius so defined for its complicity with the existing art world paradigm.
No, Picasso achieved his genius for exactly the opposite reason, for creating his own paradigm, one that rigorously defied the current norms that simply did not work for him. And yet, his efforts in creating this new paradigm and his efforts toward artistic innovation were not about looking forward to new technologies or the skills and techniques of the future. They were instead focused on looking back and unpacking the baggage of cultural expectations and tired creative standards and traditions to become an artist that was more fully himself, more fully human.
In his words, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael and a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Picasso’s groundbreaking genius was the genius of the child; a genius we all once had but has been obscured by years of “development” and cultural norming. His was a genius of deconstruction for the sake of a more fully realized, more liberating construction. It was the genius of starting over and working toward the world we want to live in rather than adapting to the world as we already know it.
Last week, I spent a profound week with a group of students, both with and without intellectual disabilities, who are part of Project UNIFY through the Special Olympics. And, I was stunned and moved by what I saw. I got a glimpse of a social and educational world created by youth and rooted in Picasso’s deconstructive genius.
As in Picasso’s approach to painting, the norms, expectations, and definitions of disability (rather than art) were denied by these young people in order to develop more genuine friendships and achieve shared learning. In this space, “otherness” of all types was set aside for the one-ness of youth. During this time, the young people understood that there is no justice for one without justice for the other. The whole premise of their engagement defied our adult-driven society’s limiting expectations of youth and of disability and created a space for each person to be more fully himself/herself.
Disability was for another place and time and certainly another audience. This was about ability – something everyone has. What the Project UNIFY approach enabled was truly profound:
What I saw enabled in youth at the Youth Activation Summit can only be described as a sort of social genius. While Picasso struggled a lifetime to undo the social, cultural, and creative norms of art, these young people (at least in this setting) were already unfettered by the social and cultural norms and expectations of the teenage years, of disability, and of so much more. All of the anxieties, the self consciousness, the uncertainty of youth were somehow set aside and overpowered by the collective and by the commonality of difference. These were teenagers who were willingly and passionately deconstructing through their relationships and actions the prohibitive and exclusionary norms of their schools, communities, and our broader culture that label and exclude those with intellectual disabilities.
While these young people are already displaying a remarkable degree of social liberation, it is our charge as adults to take Picasso’s more rigorous path. We must commit to supporting their liberation through more inclusive systems and structures and broader awareness and understanding of all kinds of “differences.” We must meet their sense of the collective and of commonality with inclusive schools and classrooms rather than the separate educational and social worlds so many of them beautifully and painfully described. We must commit to revolutionizing the systems, formal and informal, that categorize, segregate, and separate our young people. We must ensure that the young people who follow us into adulthood will have the space to truly develop, rather than diminish, the skills of collective power and social inclusion demonstrated by these young people.
We must create the space for their genius to shake and shape our world and ensure that our jadedness and our tired paradigms don’t shape theirs.
We must meet their liberation with our own and together move forward in new and profound directions.
If Picasso sought creative liberation in deconstructing his world to see and paint like a child, surely I now seek my own by living among my family, friends, co-workers, and community with the courageous humanity of the student leaders in Project UNIFY.
Part of the confusion and pressure of being a middle and high school student is not just that relatively new feeling of “otherness” (i.e. being different) but that this feeling charges our emotional and cognitive development in ways that can last a lifetime. These are truly formative years. Starting in our teens and carrying through the rest of our lives, we develop habits in response to our “otherness” in which we: 1. conform and adapt so that we are included (eliminate otherness), 2. isolate and look for proxies for positive social relationships (neutralize otherness), or 3. develop the confidence to be who we are regardless of what others think (celebrate otherness).
The reality is that during the teenage years we move in and out of all of these responses quite frequently and without notice. This is kind of what defines the teenage years. It’s why adults think teens are weird! It is also what makes the teenage years such a critical time for inclusion and genuine engagement.
But, for many students with physical and intellectual disabilities, the option of “conforming” feels impossible in a traditional sense. They are so strongly considered “other” by peers and adults that the opportunity to just become one of the group is out of their hands. Similarly, they are often structurally isolated – both socially and physically – living parallel lives to their same-aged peers in their own wing of the school, with their own teachers, classrooms, and school and community activities. And, as long as this is the case, as long as they are the “others”, inclusion and full engagement are impossibilities for everyone.
The fact is that every teen, every one of us actually, is “other”. We are all different and we all need to have a say in our own development and the paths we choose. When otherness is allowed the space to be celebrated, inclusion, rather than isolation, becomes the norm. When everyone is understood as other then otherness as we know it no longer exists. And, when we engage others, we all engage our best selves.
Silence: It’s an Action Thing to Do
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with staff and youth of the Youth Activation Committee of Special Olympics Arizona. I was proud to have the opportunity to support their work by having the chance to facilitate a part of one of their meetings. For my work, our main goal was to get back to an understanding with the youth and adult coordinator of how working with Special Olympics and particularly Project UNIFY is not just something we do, but something grounded in who we are and core to our values system. It is something we live every day and go to sleep with every night.
So I started the meeting by simply asking everyone what values being a part of Project UNIFY helped them live out. Why was the work so important to them? We went around the room and, of course, I was inspired by the sense of love and friendship and equity and justice articulated by these teens as well as the commitment of the adult staff. Incredible, really. However, one athlete, part of her school’s unified flag football team, who had been quite vocal up to this point had not yet responded. So, I stopped and asked if she had anything she would like to offer. Without a verbal response, she dropped her head and began writing, slowly and deliberately.
The room was silent. She kept writing, slowly, deliberately.
(How long do I give her? I have never worked with this young woman. This could go on for hours for all I know!)
She kept writing, slowly, deliberately.
(Are any of the other youth giving me an idea that it’s time to move ahead? Should I move on and come back to her? We really don’t have that much time!)
No cues. The other youth were quiet and patiently waiting. So, I sat down and did the same.
I tried not to watch for fear of her feeling any sort of pressure to hurry, but she was in a zone and really working with her thoughts. It wouldn’t have mattered. As she approached the end of the first page of notes, I again began to wonder just how long this could or should last. But, I waited.
Finally, at the end of page one, she lifted her head. She started to speak and then got timid and lost her thoughts. Her previous confidence was suddenly gone. She was nervous, a bit confused. Her partner, also from her high school, softly reminded her to look at the notes she had just written.
“Oh yeah.” She picked up her pad and began to read. She spoke of the value of friendship and sports and about how it helped organize her days (which was a very clear way she processed and understood the world, by her weekly calendar). She talked a bit about unified football; it was her first season.
And then, after a small pause, she said something profound: “Project UNIFY is an action thing to do and includes students and teachers and other people.” Project UNIFY is “an action thing to do.” Project UNIFY involves everyone in her school. She nailed it. It was beautiful. It was real.
It was also a statement that may never have happened in the pace and noise of our usual way of doing business. How many times have you been in a meeting when there were two or three good minutes of silent thinking? When no one giggled nervously? Looked around? At their watch? Checked their phone? When people sat there in the presence and fullness of silence?
When was the last time you were in a class or a meeting or anywhere for that matter when your opinion was so valued that your peers were willing to sit silently until you could formulate your thoughts? However long it took!?
And yet, it was this silence that gave this young woman power and voice. It was this silence that gave the rest of us humility. It gave her a chance to process and express her world with the skills that she has, not based on the rules and skills of everyone else, and not defined or minimized by the skills we all say she doesn’t have. And, it was this silence that allowed this gift to be shared with us. A gift from a young woman whose perspectives are too often dismissed because of intellectual disability, her profundity and spirit lost in the noise of activity when she was all about action. She was about action that included others in her work and in her sports and in her life – this was her core value.
I am not sure how to write about silence, and I am not sure how and if I can convey the power of the moment and my appreciation of the young people who showed me the way.
I will have the image forever in my mind of watching this young woman write her thoughts, and no amount of time spent waiting could have been more valuable than waiting.
If only we could find the silence in our daily lives and relationships to be open to the genius around us and to create the space for all forms of love and life and genius to come in. We may even find that this silence is the path to becoming our best selves. We might just learn that silence is itself “an action thing to do.”
I had the honor of speaking at a youth conference hosted and led by young people involved with “I’m Determined” in the state of Virginia (www.Imdetermined.org). I knew the focus of the work and leadership development was on young people with disabilities and that “I’m Determined” is committed to ensuring that these young people develop their voices, understand their power, and achieve self-determination. The experience was incredible; the youth were amazing; the adult staff appropriately supportive without claiming too much power; I left inspired and reflective.
Yes, I met some phenomenal young people - powerful leaders - who also had disabilities. From blindness to dyslexia, from Williams Syndrome to Cerebral Palsy, from ADHD to Aspbergers, these young people redefined traditional notions of individual leadership. But, my inspiration didn’t come from any individual, but from who and how they all were together.
So, what happens when you bring 130 young people with disabilities together, many of whom had never been to such a conference, some of whom had never even separated from their parents for hours at a time? What happens when you cram these 130 young people, many in motorized chairs, a few with vision impairments and others with an array of physical walking supports and bulky contraptions into a small hotel ballroom full of tables and chairs and bags and personal items on the floor? What happens when some non-verbal, some partially verbal, and some fully verbal youth “discuss” what leadership means and how they can become better leaders? What happens when it is meal time and there is a buffet line and some do not have the physical capacity to get their food by themselves, much less carry their food back to the ballroom and then eat it? What about the young man walking in circles in the corner? What about the young woman who cannot tolerate the sound of the lights in the room (which the rest of us could not even hear)? What happens when you turn all organizing and facilitation of all of this over to a subset of these same youth?
What sounds like a logistical impossibility was a beautiful manifestation of community, and I don’t mean “disability community”; I mean community in its ideal.
When everyone has a disability, no one has a disability. When the assumption is that everyone could use a little support, everyone offers a little support. When we understand that everyone communicates and learns differently, we listen and teach differently.
Every young person at this meeting stood ready to help someone else. So, when something was in the way of a motorized chair, someone else leaned down to get it. When someone got in line for food and couldn’t serve themselves, someone else helped them first before getting her own. When someone needed help writing, speaking, hearing, or just calming themselves in this foreign environment, another young person made it all happen. The day went off without a hitch.
If only I could be so in tune with others and they with me. I’m determined to be so.