WE MUST CREATE CHANGE

I was going to call this my “Hope For 2015”, but that is so passive and useless. Anybody can – and lots of people do – post warm, fuzzy notes with Hopes for the New Year, and others click and share. Lovely.
But this is NOT all warm & fuzzy. It’s literally dead serious (with many murdered throughout the year), and quite often blunt, because I am blunt at times. It’s also a call to a change of perspective for some of you.
Deal. Think about it. I’m not a lone voice. Click and share.

MY CALL TO ACTION IS FOR YOU TO READ THIS THROUGH, THINK, AND SPEAK UP. ALL YEAR LONG.

And the next year and the next.

This isn’t about some stranger, or Those Other People, or “That Kind”.

Children with disabilities or other differences are not diseased or broken. The same is true for adults. Yes, those “poor, little disabled children” grow up into disabled adults. Gee, so where’s the concern now? It sure isn’t at work; in the U.S. general unemployment is at 5.3%, but for disabled adults it’s twice that at 10.8%.
Nor are autistic or ADHD children some kind of modern mystery; millions of such adults have been around for decades, just unrecognized for lack of diagnostics. Most of us are profoundly relieved to find out Why. We still have to deal with the details, but that’s easier when you know that not all your difficulties are from some kind of moral failing, or from a lack of trying (and trying, and trying).

WHAT, YOU NEVER HAD KIDS LIKE “THAT KIND” IN YOUR CLASSES? YOU KNOW WHY?

Some were kept at home, because until passage of the IDEA in 1975, US law did not require public schools to teach everyone.
Some were warehoused in institutions, badly treated, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and oft uneducated.
But many of us were there; how we struggled through school and life, without accommodations or understanding, and often the target of bullying by peers and even school officials.
Untold numbers of women and men just knew themselves inexplicably “a bit odd”, and did best they could; some succeeding, others not so well.
At worst are those who not only lacked resources, but were shunned by society’s classism, ableism, racism and sexism, and (if still alive) are found among the imprisoned, derelicts, addicts, abused and enslaved populations.

YOUR CHILDREN AND EVEN COLLEGE STUDENTS WILL LEARN DIFFERENTLY, SO YOU MUST ADJUST

We are neither inherently stupid nor incapable of learning. Learning differently means teaching differently. Find what works. Everyone has limits, but a consistent lack of success means you should use another method, as well as more time. Sometimes the learning is highly irregular in pace. Tie learning to interests to motivate your children and students.
Also, be aware that sometimes the “simple basics” may be entirely bypassed by some students who leap to master higher concepts, albeit often forever struggling with those seemingly “simple basics”. People are humans, not robots. Learning is not always linear.

COMMUNICATION IS NOT JUST SPEAKING

Never assume that just because someone is nonverbal they cannot communicate. If you’re not getting their messages, then *you* are doing something wrong. Nor should you assume that because someone is nonverbal that they cannot understand what people say (though the processing may sometimes be delayed). Nor assume that because someone has been nonverbal for years that they’ll never speak. And damn, will you get an earful.

INCONSISTENCY IN DAY-TO-DAY ABILITIES IS FRUSTRATING FOR ALL, AND NOT A CHOICE

Importantly, just because someone is able to speak or do a task one day, that does not guarantee consistent results. It’s the nature of disabilities — regardless whether considered mental or physical – all involve the brain. Brains are funny things, and many of us have a few buggy Beta-version programs in our wetware. It’s frustrating as hell for all involved.
But don’t assume the “could-then-can’t-now” is intentional. “Oh, he can hear me when he wants.” “Well, you could solve those equations just fine yesterday.” I can guarantee that after a lifetime of such, ridiculing people and punishing them for things they cannot help only increases performance stress.
While that stress might increase focus from sheer terror, it often squelches overall functioning. (Do you want me to listen to you, or try to recall yesterday’s process, or slowly figure it out on my own? I can only do one — if my stomach will stay down.)

TRAMPLE THE TROPES

Ignore the media tropes and centuries of religious hype: disabled people are neither inherently amoral, soulless and evil, nor are they infinitely happy, friendly and angelic. People are people. A few will be nasty bits, some will be profoundly good sorts, and the rest are just ordinary folks who get mad, sad and glad, who screw things up sometimes, and who will also serve others selflessly despite bearing more abuse than anyone should.
We are definitely not incomprehensible, incomplete, little autism-puzzle-pieces, unloving, unlovable, or uncaring.
We are whole people with all the same cares, needs and wants as all humans. Beware — disability happens to anyone at any time. We aren’t a Them, and YOU can be among the world’s 15% in just one day. We are all Us.

STOP “TEACHING TOLERANCE”

Because tolerance means putting up with something one doesn’t really like, or that doesn’t really belong. We want full-fledged ACCEPTANCE.
Nor should we only be acceptable if we can somehow “overcome” our differences enough to pass for Normal Real People. Trying to “pass” all the time is exhausting, and invariably breaks down, oft resulting in the [supposed] Normal Real People assuming that one is lazy, stupid, crazy, all the above, or worse.
Training children for hours a day how to artificially perform “acting normal” does not serve to help them learn how to function best in the world. Yes, of course teach good manners, social and work skills. But suppressing every twitch of one’s natural being adds to stress, making everything else yet more difficult. This is especially when performing like a “normal person” means not doing the harmless things that reduce stresses.

STOP THE BLAME

I must call out the terrifying, unaddressed assumption which underlies so much daily trauma: “The reason the disabled [children] are targeted by bullies is because they are perceived as being weird”. Despite the pervasiveness of this social theme in society, most people are functionally unaware of it, all the while instilling in their Normal People children the same message. Normal People children need to act normal, and not act like That Kind. After all, that’s how the Normal People know the others are That Kind, who’s Us and who’s Them.
But it’s the disabled and different who are taught, over-and-over-and-over that not only is it their fault for behaving or looking weird, BUT ALSO if they weren’t so weird, well then they wouldn’t be bullied. “Quit being so weird! Just say No! Just say Stop.”
Just say BULLSHIT. Because this is blaming the victim. The problem is not that everyone isn’t the same, the problem is that there are bullies.
Even worse, blaming the targets actually empowers the bullies, because the social story says it’s the victim is the one who is acting wrong, so it’s not really the bully who is to blame.
Let’s just top off all that existing anxiety and depression with the trauma of trying to seek justice, but being told again that, “Well it’s your fault, you know. Attracting attention by being weird, and bugging people. You need to quit making trouble now. You already take up too much of our time with all of your “special” needs. Quit whining and go deal with it. — But no fighting, because we’ll know it was you who started it.”
By the way, it’s not “just a kids at school” thing that everyone will “grown out of”. It continues on through college, and happens at work, too.

YOU CAN’T WALK IN THE LITTLE BOY’S SHOES;

THEY’RE FLOATING DOWN-RIVER

It is NEVER acceptable to murder disabled children. Nor should these repeated, horrifying events be considered “understandable” or “excusable”, with the murderers being pardoned just because their son or daughter had a disability.
Increasingly more prevalent in social media, the crime becomes insidiously deemed more and more acceptable. Murderers re-cast themselves as martyrs, acquiring champions to their cause. Throughout repeated blog posts and news stories, they bemoan how taking care of disabled children is just too unbearable, they had to take care of them every day of the week, there was never any relief or help. (Even though there was.) Cue the groupies’ hand-wringing and protests upon the villains’ behalf: “Oh but won’t you walk in their shoes, how they’ve given up their lives, this wasn’t at all what they wanted.”
For in true sociopathic fashion, the poor, long-suffering parents revel in the attention, announcing to the world – sometimes ahead of time — what they have done, and all the while describing themselves as the victims. The dead children (young or adult) are unwanted, and deemed unwantable, less than human just because they couldn’t speak, or needed medical treatments, or used a power chair, or didn’t play with their toys the “right way”, or wore adult diapers … No one would want to live like that; the thing’s better off dead. And what of the groupies? Well, where do you think people get such terrible ideas that it’s okay to kill one’s own children?

ENOUGH WITH THE “DISABILITY INSPIRATION PORN”.

Quit using those heart-tugging videos, walk-a-thons, telethons, and other grand-society functions to win your supposed Cosmic Brownie Points for giving us your pity. Please stop dumping upon us the largesse of your unwanted rags (so Victorian, so passé), or creating useless functions requiring us to serve as targets of unwanted helpful-helper-helpiness for your ego-boo.
Get disabled people out of “sheltered workshops”. Yes, people need work they are suited to. But the segregation and token sweatshop “wages” are an embarrassment and humiliation to all.

YES, CHILDREN GROW UP.

YEP, STILL DISABLED, BUT NOW ADULTS

Do not assume your children will remain permanently childish and incapable — they mature on their own timelines. Allow adults to be adults. Support their needs and interests, but neither dress them like children, nor expect them to live their lives in naïve pre-puberty stasis, without adult desires for socializing with adult peers, life-long learning, mastering skills for some kind of job (even if that job is “just socially productive work” rather than traditional work), and yes, having a love life, however that may be expressed.

YES, PEOPLE ALSO NEED ACCOMMODATIONS;

THAT DOESN’T MEAN “CURE”

Most disabled or different people are not looking for cures to magically change them into someone else, some kind of fantasy Normal Real person that their families wanted instead. Our differences may result from physical events, by random mutation, and / or genetics. Your genetics. We are family. I’m Me, and I like being Me. If you somehow changed all the differences in my brain, I wouldn’t be Me anymore, with all my quirks and abilities.
Of course it will be great to find a means for preventing migraines, epilepsy, fatal medical conditions, et cetera. But it’s also a sad fact that some people have been so convinced of their undesirability as disabled human beings that they can only see “cure” as a means to being an acceptable Normal Real Person. (Worst of all, some people commit suicide because they’ve been taught to hate themselves, as useless and unwanted.)
But what’s really alarming is all the fund-raising, talk, research, and work going on today to eliminate entire kinds of peoples. I’m talking about the thousands of selfish individuals and sociopaths who believe that anyone with neurological or morphological differences should not exist at all, because That Kind takes up too much time, money, and resources.
That’s not “looking for a cure” – that’s eugenics and euthanasia, the same ideas that led to the Nazi Aktion T4 program and other horrors. (In my youth, the state hospital was still in the regular habit of sterilizing people. Had I been institutionalized, I might well not have had my lovely children and grandchildren.)
Yes, we want assistance, we want things that help us achieve what we want in life. Getting the things one needs to learn effectively, to move about, attend to their own needs, to work, to play, to be a part of the community, to have lovers or families. These things should not be seen as extraordinary, special, absurd, or a waste of money, just because they aren’t the same kinds of things used by other people. 15% of the people in the world have disabilities. That is a lot of humanity, and many are uneducated, abused, neglected, avoided, or shut away, depriving the world of incredible amounts of untapped abilities and talents.

CALL OUT BULLSHIT. REQUIRE ACCOMMODATIONS. DEMAND ACCEPTANCE.

MAKE IT SO.

Having Fun Pushing Limits

I was on the radio! :: hyperactive bouncing ::  You should listen to the show — there are links below.
Adrienne Lauby and Shelley Berman, co-hosts of Berkeley, California’s KPFA “Pushing Limits” disability program, invited Mike Ervin, advocate and blogger of Smart Ass Cripple and me to talk about “The Wild World of Disability on the Internet.” Is that fun or what?
Broadcasting is always giddy: I get to talk with interesting people I wouldn’t have otherwise, and the experience is recorded to share with all of you!
Between my ADHD and Auditory Processing glitches, I was worried about accidentally interrupting folks, but I don’t think we had too much trouble with that. It’s always curious to go back and listen to it myself, because one’s voice never sounds as low pitched as it does inside your head. But when I’m speaking, I’m on “live” rather than “Memorex”, and it’s cool to be able to rewind life and hear what happened.
Mike Ervin and I were unfamiliar with each other, but when you get four people together who are passionate about the same things (including hosts who can lead out introductory stories) there is no awkward stage — we hit it off quickly, and Mike has a wicked wit.
Of course, we could have easily spent an hour riotously remarking about activism, attribution errors and other topics. We did talk about those, and amazingly, with less than eight minutes apiece, we also talked about accessibility, myths, inspiration-p*rn, othering, home-care, how blogging “levels the playing field” and more. It was great fun!
(Oh, and related to a question on fidgeting, I mentioned an XKCD cartoon, which I’ve included — with descriptions — at the bottom of this post.)

You haven’t missed it — there are 3 ways you can listen now!

1. Click this link: Pushing Limits: The Wild World of Disability on the Internet 

2. Paste this URL into the address box for your mp3 player (iTunes, etc): http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/82157

3. Click on this download hyperlink:

Pushing Limits – July 6, 2012 at 2:30pm
Click to listen (or download)

“RESONANCE” An XKCD.com cartoon by Randall Munroe, in 3 panels.

In the first panel, someone is sitting at a computer desk, and is disturbed by vibrations.

In the second panel, he turns and asks the person behind, “Excuse me, you’re jiggling your leg up and down. It’s traveling through the floor and making my desk resonate.”
The other person apologizes, “Oh, I didn’t even realize! I’ll stop.”

In the last panel, the first person reaches over to hand the second a piece of paper, and asks, “Actually, can you just shift the frequency up by 15%? I think you can get resonance with Steve’s desk instead.”
“Uh huh…” says the second, and the first guy continues, “Here are the calculations. Let’s coordinate and try to spill his drink.”

The mouse-over caption reads, “It’s really hard to control the frequency, actually.”

 

That's Not Helpful!

Here’s a riddle:  how is a broken foot like being pregnant? 

(No, it has nothing to do with wait times.)
Mid-October I entirely missed the last two steps of the stairs to the basement floor and BLAM! Didn’t even experience the slip and fall. Hurt so much I didn’t even cuss, and only OW’d so folks would know I’d been hurt. My ankle really hurt, so I limped to my bedroom and pulled on an ankle elastic (which I keep in my purse because being hypermobile means easily spraining things). Hobbled around the rest of the day, giving it the usual Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation between doing stuff. That was a Friday.
The next day it was really swollen, with a purple bruise covering the entire upper surface, but it wasn’t horribly painful like a migraine. I called out from stocking work at the grocery, rested more, and tied on a foot brace. My son-in-law said it might be broken (it’s good to have a medic in the house).
Guess what? Broken bones are not always screamingly painful. Whoda thunk?
Sunday I went to the walk-in clinic, and yeup, two of my metatarsals were broken, in a displacement fracture, no less. (Meaning, the bones weren’t even lined up, but were slightly ajar.) They put on a splint. The next day I went to an orthopedist, and after due examination of the clinic’s radiographs, the doc sent me to get a boot-type cast, and make follow-up appointments. On my end, I remembered to get a ‘script for a temporary Disabled Parking permit. Whee.
That was the easy part. But OMG the annoying part is not the broken foot itself.

The annoying part is dealing with the public,
those discourteous, “well-intended”, damnably useless interactions!

Because you see, when you have a physically-apparent injury, one’s body suddenly becomes part of the public’s purview; they are free to make enquiries, “do help to you”, “charmingly” engage in the social distancing of pity, and give malcommendations.
(Hopefully I won’t use up my month’s share of sarcasm quote marks, but one must hazards risk.)
It’s intrusive. Being visibly disabled [sometimes] means losing status to where anyone can ask most anything of you.I don’t mind answering questions from family, coworkers, and friends about the event and my recuperative status. But seriously, why should every random stranger feel privileged to details? Were the issue nephrological, nobody would want to know what was wrong with my bladder, or why I had to make so many bathroom trips, about the thrills of contrast dye, or what my urologist recommended. Yet like when bearing a belly bump, it’s open season. WTF?
It’s unaccommodating disaccommodating. I had not even left the orthopedists office when I was first treated to un-wanted, un-needed, un-help. I had used crutches before (decades ago when I stepped into a rabbit hole, and you can imagine all the er, lame jokes that transpired), and it took but a couple of days to re-acquire my expertise. When I’m using crutches and opening a push-door, the dance goes as follows: swing my body around to back into the door and push against the bar with my buttocks, then after creating the useful gap, balance on the strong foot to turn again, and swing the crutch on my working side around to prop open the door with the rubber foot. Well, the doctors had removed the splint and were sending me down the hall to get the boot. So with my fractured foot all bare, I approached the door to the waiting room and had gotten as far as butting open the door when —
— some idjit hanging around the waiting room decided to be “helpful” and without saying anything, bounded over and suddenly yanked the door open! Mind you, I was balanced on one foot and leaning backwards against the door, so guess what?! Well, I may be clumsy (it comes with the large territory of hypermobility) but thankfully I also have lightning-fast reflexes, and was able to crash to the floor safely. (Dancers and gymnasts know whereof I speak.) That’s not helpful!
And then we have the other unwanted bits of the social model of disability.
It’s … infantilising. Such as when I’m doing something totally mundane, just minding my own beeswax and swinging through a store to get to the restrooms, when some complete stranger feels the need to comment upon my mobility,

“You’re really good at that!”

Except it doesn’t sound at all like admiration at my ability to execute stunning pivots around pyramids of produce, but rather like praising a school child who had colored between the lines on a Kindergarten worksheet.
It’s patronising. When I took advantage of the store’s motorcart to shop for groceries and am cruising at a whopping three miles per hour in a straight line down the middle of the bread-and-jam aisle, and receive a smarmy,

“Wow, look at you go!”

And of course, it’s pitying. 

“Oh, you poor thing!”

There is the assumption of Injury As Tragedy; they have to know when it’s going to be better. Well, what if it’s never going to get “better”? What if it’s permanent, or chronic and intermittent?  It’s the sort of pity where people can’t see past the “broken” part and are uncomfortable; they’re full of Schadenfreude, relieved that the Bad Thing didn’t happen to them. Sometimes the coin of pity they pass along is a kind of magical thinking, token payment to Fate to avert similar disaster.
That’s not helpful.
And let us not forget the malcommendations, a subject of such amazing WhatTheFuckery that it deserved its own post. To wit:

You can tell that you’re running into the lousy end of helpers when the need for social recognition outweighs and over-rules the negative feedback from the recipients. You can tell when they lose the “take it or leave it” perspective and insist that what you need is what they have to offer. Protesting the inappropriateness of their pet form of aid is often useless; you get condescending responses about how they are “specially” qualified, and how you are being unappreciative, and cannot know what is best for you simply because you are of the recipient class.

Such dread Helpers and Fixers want not just the ego-boost and recognition; they want status, and will even sometimes create their own imaginary status markers as proof of why others should recognise their special knowledge and munificent public service. At worst they are narcissistic, at best, merely clueless.

One of the oddest things I have run into with such types is not just the insistence that their pet solution is what is needed, but that any solution they have heard of should be helpful and tried. The advice is coming from them and they want what’s best for you, therefor it’s automatically good advice. I have at times been left so amazed that someone could suggest doing something so far off base with my needs, so profoundly inappropriate, that I was all but sputtering. It wasn’t just an off-target bit of advice, an unhelpful recommendation. It was, I decided later, a malcommendation, a bad recommendation (usually inadvertent) but still bad advice nonetheless.

To take that abstract description to a real-life example, I offer this:
I was at one of my jobs, and a coworker said she would do thus-and-such for me. “Oh, no-no, that’s okay; I’m fine,” I politely dismissed, because I had already sussed out how I was going to perform my duties with my own modifications. But no, she was insistent; after all, she was (at her other job) a medical assistant of some sort,

“No no — I know all about that,” she asserted, her smugness wafting over in a perfumed cloud.

::CRINGE::
Look, as a medical assistant or what-have-you, you don’t know “all about that”; it’s obvious that the doctors know LOTS more.
Secondly, you’re presuming that you know what is best to do TO me, or to do FOR me. Apparently you’ve not realised that I don’t want to be a passive recipient of your “expertise”.
Seriously, when doctors-medics-aides-ancillary-healthcare-professionals know things I don’t know, that’s great! That’s why I’m here visiting your officies. But please, presume some self-awareness of my actual needs, and competency on my part. Work WITH me.
Otherwise, that’s not helpful.

Saved by bureaucracy

( A follow-up on my shaky employment status, as described in a previous post, The Catch.)
So now I’ve twice seen the ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat doc, not tree-folk), to figure out if the vertigo, worsening tinnitus and hearing difficulties are related to Ménière’s, or “just” migraines.  At those visits I also spent time in the audiologist’s booth:  “Huh?  Sorry, I can’t see what you’re saying.”  “Oh,” he replied jovially, “this isn’t a vision test, it’s a hearing test.”  Ha, ha.  Very funny.
(Have I mentioned that lately one of the cable channels is messed up, and maddenly, we’ve not had any closed-captions on episodes of CSI ?  Listening to TV is hard enough with fussy babies who want bouncing, much less auditory processing glitches and tinnitus.)
And then something wonderful happened:
The day after my first ENT visit, it occurred to me that it might be useful to ge an official letter from the doc to give to my various bosses.  So I called in my request to the office nurse and picked it up from the receptionist and passed out copies to my supervisors and those got fowarded to Human Resources people and —

SHAZAM!

I was saved by bureaucracy.
(I mean hey, it’s gotta happen sometime, right?)
Because apparently being treated for Ménière’s disease (note the careful legal waffling on diagnostics) falls under the umbrella of an American labor law known as the The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).  Basically, taking care of sick family members, birth, adoption, or one’s own illness (covered by the Act) is protected so the worker can get unpaid sick leave without worrying about job security.
I cannot be dunned for absences related to bouts of vertigo.
My principal was of course very polite and helpful in the process of explanating this unexpected coverage.  I was asked about accommodations that might be helpful.  Alas, none of the things suggested by the Job Accommodation Network are applicable to my job (but that’s a great site if you need ideas for accommodations for most any sort of affliction or difference).
However, I was giving some 60 days of sick leave for absences related to — and only to — Ménière’s.  Despite my initial relief, my job status still feels as wobbly as my gait some days.  Stay tuned for further developments.

What you want

I still feel queasy when I remember the words.
Children have a certain disempowerment simply because they are young — they are naïve, less learned, and lack perspective. But this transcended childhood.  It sank past the boundaries of adult to child, or parent to child, and trampled my self-identity and self-determination.
My mom had found a way to get past what some would have called the “fortress” that isolated me, that natural preoccupation with whatever I was doing and naïve self-centeredness, that self-ism or autism that was greater in me than most anyone else.
“Oh, you don’t want to get grilled cheese again!” she chided me, but her sharp glance to me denied the lightness in her tone.  Her expression would then change, as it so often did when she spoke to other adults, with the swiftness of flipping a social light-switch, and she turned to pleasantly address the waitress “She wants the ham sandwich.”
Or: “You don’t either, have a headache.  You’re just fine.  Now go get your work done.”
And in 9th grade, in a dizzying double-bind: “You don’t want to be a park ranger; quit flapping that survey!  You’re going to sign up for bookkeeping and typing, and you’re going to start getting good grades in math class, too.”
Increasingly, I was told how I “really” felt emotionally or physically, or told me that I could not possibly be feeling something, that indeed I actually was feeling.  Invalidation is when an emotionally abusive person distorts someone’s perception of the world, or when the abuser undermines their factual processing by casting doubt upon the facts of the events.  Denying what happened or the analysis of what happened, minimizing the importance of abusive statements or trivializing the recipient’s responses are also means of invalidation.
Over the years, my inertia increased.   I could never tell when I was expected to have a preference, or rather, to just to express a preference, since apparently I wasn’t really allowed to have them.  When it wasn’t convenient to others for me to express a preference (to speed up shopping, or to allow my mom to appear generous), I was soundly rebuked and told what I “really wanted”.
My stress and depression increased throughout my teen years.  When I should have been learning independence and skills and decision-making, I was thwarted, and then paradoxically, received further insults because of my lack of independence.  Never knowing when I was supposed to express an opinion, or what my opinion was “supposed” to be, I frequently gave up and just shrugged, unable to verbally express the “appropriate response”. I frequently did not know what that “appropriate response” was.
Worse, with my lack of being able to perceive all those subtle social cues that pervaded both my warped home environment, and even the subtle social cues that comprise such an overwhelming part of interactions in the “normal” world, I was becoming increasingly fatigued with the burden of shamefully lacking in whatever psychic means would have informed me.  It was of course, all my fault, as so many people were quickly willing to inform me.
My mom had found a way to get past my natural self-centeredness, not by inviting me to understand others’ worlds, but by trampling my personal boundaries of selfhood.  Although children have a certain disempowerment simply because they are young, they, like all self-conscious organisms, are entitled to — nay, required — that their selfhood be respected.  Denying that someone else might have opinions worth considering, much less that they are even allowed to even have opinions, violates that central inalienable right.

~#~

Years later as an adult, I was still running into much the same problem of “reality shifting” (being told by others what my personal reality and preferences were “supposed” to be), even if it wasn’t expressed as blatantly or as frequently.  One such event became (in retrospect) a tipping point — not in events, but in perceptual clarity.  I finally realized that such events were equally disrespectful, even if they lacked the overt denial and double-binds.
My (now ex-) husband was telling me that I shouldn’t want to do jury duty because it might interfere with my vacation schedule or my work schedule.  I shouldn’t want to do jury duty because it didn’t pay as much as my job did.
But I realised in confusion, that this wasn’t about what I wanted to do, to participate as a citizen, to help make a positive difference in justice, and to be able to observe another facet of social functioning.
Ostensibly, it was about what he wanted from me, in terms of convenience in the family schedule, and what he wanted from me in terms of my earnings. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, we were horribly, deeply in debt.)  I wasn’t denying that it could make these differences in scheduling and earnings — but really, that wasn’t the issue here.  Those “reasons” were just distractors.
Rather, he was trying to enforce my actions based upon his wants, and dismissing my wants as being unimportant.  He was trying to convince me that his wants were my wants.  We all have wants, but I didn’t think that mine should have been dismissed as being unimportant.
The solutions he proposed were ones compromises between the requirements of the law, and what he said I wanted.  But effectively, I was the one being compromised, because his announcement denied my interests and enabled him to get what he wanted, rather than what would have enabled both of us.
I got tired of being told what I should want. I got tired of being told how I should feel.  I was suffering from a chronic case of spiritual fatigue. Constantly negotiating to be taken seriously was an exhausting way to live.
I don’t miss those aspects of my life; my whole system twitches when I perceive someone telling me what I “should be feeling” or “really want to do”.
Now if only I could get out of some of these other double binds that infest my work life …

Cartfuls of Spoons

They’re out.  Or, Out.  We have the exquisite “Privilege of Being Clouted By Cabbage” and are navigating the hazards of the supermarket.  When things are done the way they’re supposed to be, going to pick up a few groceries is just as boring, or as Dave discovered, lonely, for disabled people as much as it is for everyone else.  But sometimes it isn’t, such as when Wheelchair Dancer finds herself navigating the hazards of anonymous donors that leave awkward brochures under her windshield wiper, and then dealing with the even more awkward social fallout with the clerk who’s assisting her.
People with a variety of disabilities come to the store to get groceries, movies, dry cleaning, take-out food, postage stamps, floral arrangements, and because it’s this time of year, garden plants, which is why I am working there.  I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am bemused to report that I realised that people with physical ailments are shopping at the store alla time!  After all, that is why we have some of those electric carts, in addition to automatic doors, ramped paving, lower check-writing stands, supposedly-accessible bathrooms*, et cetera.
Most of the time I just interact with the public as a “normal” garden center employee, but sometimes we are also interacting with that subtle overlay of disability, which entertains the social scientist part of my brain.
Being the token horticulturalist, I answer questions, help customers plan flower beds and suggest suitable plants for locations.  In addition to working the register, watering, deadheading and “facing” the stock (moving pots towards the fronts of the benches to fill in holes left by customers), I work with the others to come up with æsthetically-pleasing displays of the plants.  (Although there is no way of hiding the fact that the corporate HQ plagued us with a plethora of Pelargonium, a visual red tide of geraniums.)
I’ve seen plenty of plant displays at a variety of other stores, and have found their long lines of benches to be annoying.  It’s not just that endless tracts of pink & purple Petunias, orange & yellow Marigolds, and red Geraniums are mind-numbingly dull to the point of dampening any sort of inspiration for coming up with container or bedding combinations.  It’s that the long lines of “benches” block traffic flow.  You feel like you’re trudging up and down the maze of a ticket queue, unable to grab some pots of more-interesting Corkscrew Rush or Calibrachoa tha are hidden over there two aisles over.  It’s hard to break out of the march to exit stage left to the register (till), or even quit to go over to the entrance into the store.  The long lines of benches are especially boring for children, who have little more than a view of the edges of the benches and the pots, with little respite in sight.  (I’ve taken to offering children cups of the cold water from our water cooler barrel, as hot, thirsty children are cranky children.)
Worst, when at these other stores run out of available bench space, a lot of the pallets of potted plants just end up dropped by the pallet jack where-ever there’s room on the ground.  This means that the aisles are not really planned, so sometimes there are narrow dead-ends, or aisles blocked by broken bags of mulch, or the plants are simply hard to reach because they are way down on the ground or are way deep in the center of the pallet.  They are not accessible.
For a few days, we too of a dozen pallets lined up at the edge of our lot, albeit with sufficient aisle space.  It really “made my brain hurt”, because the plants had been shipped all higgedy-piggedy, with shrubs, grasses, annuals and perennials all mixed together.  There were Daylilies in four different places around our lot!  The flats of shade-loving Wax Begonias and Impatiens and sun-loving Verbena and Vinca were all jumbled by species and color!  (And OMG, still more Geraniums.  And Creeping Phlox, which only looks nice when it’s blooming, and now we have enough to landscape a highway interchange.)
But thankfully, I’m not the only one who has a strong interest in making the endless flats of plants look more interesting, and be more accessible. We’ve been stacking pallets or propping them up on cinderblocks to put the plants into easier view and reach.  (Plus, they’re also easier for us to clean and water — ergonomics, w00t!)  We’ve been making sure that the aisles are frequently broken up into side-paths, and we try to keep the aisles 3-4 feet wide so carts, strollers and wheelchairs can get through.  It seems to be working well; every day we get compliments about how good the plants look.
But what makes this place pleasant to work for is the concern for helping our customers.  Sure, it’s store policy to be helpful (doesn’t every business flog that slogan?), but we are glad to break from running the register or watering to carry things out to the car, or load up bags of mulch and rock, or show you where the Verbena is, or explain the differences between the four varieties of white Petunias.  When someone has their hands full, we grab some empty flats, and pull carts (buggies, trolleys) over to make things easier.
It’s this “serve everyone” approach that makes helping people with various disabilities so much easier.  One of the other clerks knows American Sign Language, so Deaf customers are sure to look for her (my ASL is rather limited).  When the gentleman in the power chair thanked a coworker for carrying stuff out to his van, I was tickled to overhear him say, “No problem!  We do that for everyone.”  Because we do.
Sometimes the “disabled community” moments are colored in large brush strokes.  An older man in a wheelchair came by in search of some herb seeds, accompanied by two women who were of the “care-taker” rather than “personal assistant” mentality.  Although neither said anything obviously untoward, there was still a patronizing aura, that his desire to go shopping was being honored but that they were still “humoring” him.  It made me uncomfortable, and I kept trying to scan the interactions in the triad to figure out what was going on.
But the women were intent on asking me questions of their own, even as they were simultaneously going through the motions of helping him.  “Here’s someone who can help you.  He’s looking for some seeds.  Tell her what you’re looking for.  Do you have any seeds?  Do you remember what it was he wanted?  Ooh, don’t you just love those pink flowers?  Isn’t that what you got on your desk?”
“Well I dunno, but it’s not flowering any more.  Was you looking for parsley?  He was wanting to grow some stuff from seed.  You sure gots a lot of plants out here.”
Trying to track all this verbiage flying by was making me dizzy, and I just wanted to focus on finding out what the man came to get.  The customer himself was having some expressive difficulties. (Who wouldn’t have, being around those two all day!)  I knelt down on a knee so I could speak with him face to face.  I had to.  I had to disengage myself from the chatty care-takers who were now trying to ask me random questions unrelated to the needs of my primary customer.  I had to be able to focus on what he was asking for, which meant watching him speak.  And I had to honor him personally as the customer, not as some second-class accessory.
My knees cracked noisily, and I knelt down on one knee, and we conversed, just the garden center clerk and the customer who wanted parsley seeds, and who considered and then decided against the Doubled-Curled or Flat Italian Parsley seedlings.
After that moment, I stood back up and we were sucked back into the vortex of the chatty care-givers, who asked me some confused questions about houseplants, and then led/followed him over to the main store entrance.  I hoped he would be getting the things that he wanted this evening.
Sometimes the community moments come by quietly.  I was checking out a couple flats of annuals and several perennials for a woman, cleaning off some old leaves and blossoms and chatting as the register processed her credit card in its own slow time.
“This is going to take me several days to get it all planted,” she offered.
“Well, that’s always a good thing to do anyway,” I offered, affirming her wisdom.  “It’s those marathon gardening sessions that break our backs.”  The register finally finished hiccoughing through the electronic transmission and spat out her receipt.  I picked up her potted rose bush, rested it on a hip, and then deftly tipped up the flat of annuals to balance them on my other hand.  (It only sounds tricky; in reality the flats are just boxy grates, and I can curl my fingers into them.)  “Here, I’ll carry these out for you,” I said, leaving her to handle her purse and a couple quart pots of perennials, then added,  “I can’t garden for ten hours solid since I got arthritis.”
“Thanks.  I have RA and can only do so much at a time.”
“Ah, yeah,” I commiserated.  “You have to make dinners ahead, because the next day you’re too exhausted from gardening.”  She nodded, already tired from just the idea of the ordeal ahead.  “It’s fun, but you just run out of ‘spoons’!”   And then I loaded things into her car and we swapped the mutual thanks.  My attention turned to the gardening work of my own, left uncompleted or never even started.  Oh, and errands.  Here I was at the market nearly every day, but I kept forgetting to get my arthritis medicationn refilled!
“Hey Andrea,”  piped up one of my coworkers, “it’s nearly time for you to go on break.”  This clerk is a good guy; he’ll remind me when something is coming up, he’ll remind me when it’s time to start, and even after I’ve forgotten it.  He asks me if I remembered to clock in, and reminds me (several times) to copy down the next week’s schedule before leaving.  It sure is wonderful to have garden center clerks who are so helpful, especially when you when you’re having seriously distracted & forgetful AD/HD days!
* I’ve never navigated the women’s restroom in a wheelchair, but there are still the stupid doors to wrangle …

Piques and Valleys

So, I’ve been rather absent from bloggery lately due to spending evenings sorting through vast boxes of paper archives, moving books, applying for jobs to keep a roof over our heads, or attempting to sleep off this virus. I now have removed a cubic meter of paperness from our house, and transferred a few hundred books from one room to another. I still have the virus (or maybe a second one, as our students have not the best hygiene), but not the second job.
(Now, if anyone is looking for an experienced secondary or college tutor or after-school care for special-needs children, let me know via andreasbuzzing care of my gmail account.)
But aside from all that, there have been some thought-provoking ups and downs in the news that I don’t want to let pass before they become “olds”:
In an brief article in the New York Times, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied some 11,000 third-grade students, and found that Continue reading Piques and Valleys

For the first time in 28 years

I have not bought a Valentine’s present for my husband. I am divorcing him.
Disabilities can change how the processes of falling in love, joining, living together, loving together, and separating happen.
For most disabled people, their disabilities affect how others perceive them as even being interested or capable to find love or sex. (WTF?!)
For many disabled people, their disabilities can even change whether or not others afford them even the opportunities to find love or sex. (Again, WTF?!)
Although my husband and I both have disabilities that have changed how we are employed, communicate with each other and others, parent our children, or even sleep together (literally and figuratively), the divorce had nothing to do with our disabilities.  It’s just about the usual sorts of moral failings that can lead to divorce (even after the sensible year of counselling to assay changes).
Because in the end, love and sex do not happen because people are able or disabled.  They happen because all people are people.  And when love and sex quit, they happen because all people are people.  Just people.  Like everyone else.

This post is (slightly belated) part of Dave Hingsburger’s “Sexy Bloggers” blog carnival on disabilities and love/sexuality, over at his blog, Chewing the Fat.

You Can't

(These quotes are real, at least to the gist of what was told me.)

“You can’t — no, no whining!  You just sit here next to me and wait quietly for the doctor.  You are NOT going to bother people by grabbing all the magazines and lining them up on the floor.  Don’t even ask ‘why’ — I’m tired of all the Why’s.”

“Will you quit repeating things over and over. What the devil’s gotten into you?”

“Oh, just stop flapping about every time you’re upset!  Your baby sister doesn’t go around doing weird things like that!”

“Sit still, Andrea, no rocking.  We don’t do that in school.”

“Stop doing that!  You’re going to kill the grass, spinning around in circles like that.  Now come inside and quit making a spectacle of yourself.”

“What were you thinking, Continue reading You Can't