In the fourth grade I spent my lunch and recess in the “special needs” classroom playing with the disabled students, who apparently were not worthy of a recess outside in the fresh air?!?
David, autistic, beautiful, smart, funny David.
Teachers put a rubber band around his tiny wrist, it’s purpose was to get his attention by snapping it, stinging him inside and out. I hated those teachers. David was in his own world, a better world where people could not hurt him with rubber bands or stupid words. He never visited our world but I didn’t care, I played with him anyway. I honestly did not care that he paid me no attention, I wanted to go to his world with him.
Every day for the entire year I played with David and when the teachers used the rubber band to get him to move, or eat something, or get up and pee I screamed on the inside “LEAVE HIM ALONE! SNAP ME WITH A RUBBER BAND, I WILL REACT, I’LL PUNCH YOU THAT’S WHAT I’LL DO!”
The last day of school David’s parents came to visit. David payed as much attention to them as he paid to his teachers which is to say none. Of course it seemed to me that their attention was all about fixing David, constantly fixing him because they only saw him as broken. It seemed to me.
I took to the floor spinning various objects with him as usual and enjoying myself throughly. I turned and looked at David knowing this would be our last day together and it made me immeasurably sad.
I said “David, can I come and play with you, for real I mean, can I come to your world?”
Much to my surprise David stopped spinning and looked up at me. He took his hand with the red and raw rubber banded wrist and for no more than one or two seconds he placed his hand on mine and he smiled.
I just remember his parents and the teachers staring in disbelief for what seemed to my self concious child mind an eternity. I remember someone saying what a monumental moment it was, that David had paid attention to THEM. What this meant to their plans for making him un-broken and what the next step was going to be in their quest to fix him.
It didn’t matter to me that I was a child myself, I knew they were mistaken. He did not visit their world, he let me visit his and I am eternally grateful for the gift of what I saw there.
David changed my life. He encouraged me to continue my education in being in the world of the disabled. I went on to work at a community home for the disabled and later in the intensive care unit at an institution for the severely diabled. I have stories. I have stories that would make your hair stand on end and stories that would make you laugh out loud.
Jenna, beautiful flaming red hair. Bright blue eyes. Jenna could not move, nor could she speak but Jenna could laugh better then anybody I have ever known. Jenna’s parents came to visit her once a month. ONCE A FREAKING MONTH. It was always the same thing, come in, sit down, cry. Cry some more. Cry even more. Kiss her goodbye and leave. Every time they came Jenna was elated but by the time they left Jenna’s eyes weren’t bright anymore. I sat and brushed her beautiful hair until her laughter came back. Jenna changed my life too.
The psychologists used to come to the community homes and make their rounds in speedy know-it-all fashion, telling us how to “contain the clients” if they became agressive. How to get them to DO what we wished. Marlene chose these visits to show her spunky side, giving them plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their wise-ness. They observed and wrote furiously until their pencil leads broke and they left, feeling oh so brilliant.
Marlene and I high fived each other before they even had the car doors closed. Messing with the psychologists, her favorite passtime. Those professionals never asked me to provide them with input. I guess basically living with the clients (as they called them, I call them my friends) still did not qualify me to participate. Case files replaced human beings somewhere along the line. Marlene changed my life too.
Timmy was a runner. That boy loved to run. There was a lock on the front door way up high so he couldn’t reach it. I guess they thought he was stupid or something. Timmy waited until we were busy bathing and dragged a chair to the door, unlocked it and ran like the wind. The alarm went off and we went running too. I can’t run as fast as Timmy!!!
It JUST so happened that there had been a robbery down the road so the neighborhood was swarmed with police and even a helicopter circling above. The helicopter spotted Timmy running and well, assumed he was their man.
STOP!!!! they shouted with their bullhorn, sirens, police swarming, us screaming NOOOOO DONT HURT HIM HE IS NOT DANGEROUS!!!!!!!!!
Running through the men in blue fearing for Timmys life, that’s what we were doing.
He made his way into some guys garage and started rolling tires down the driveway at the police. The biker who lived there came out ready to roll something other than tires. Biker freaking, police shouting, sirens blaring, helicopter circling………………………Timmy laughing.
Ahhhhhhh good times!!!!!
It all turned out OK, we were able to convince the police the error of their ways and calm down biker guy. Timmy was safe and sound back at home shortly there after. Nobody underestimated how smart he was after that. Timmy changed my life too.
There are a million more fabulous stories and unbelievably sad stories in my memory. Each story is a piece of my soul and each amazing disabled person I have had the pleasure of knowing has made me realize where the bulk of society’s disabled people truly live. It most certainly is not with the people I have known. Their disabilities were minor compared to the disabilities of the bone heads they were surrounded by.
I like the idea of Disablism Day very much indeed.