Day 336:Thank you, Mrs. Alsup

When I started school in Tennessee after moving from North Carolina I was miserable. I had just lost all the friends I had worked hard to make in North Carolina , and I instinctively   worried that the civilian school culture would be far less accepting of me than the base school.  In later years I would find just how accurate that fear turned out to be  but the fourth grade was wonderful. Mrs. Alsup was and still is my favorite teacher from elementary school.She  and Mrs. Ryan , my in school aid,did everything they could to help me succeed.  When Mrs. Alsup had the  idea to pair some of my rowdier classmates with  me in a  peer helping system in class, she asked my parents but she also asked me how I felt about it and made it clear if I said no the whole  project was scrapped. I said yes and it turned into one of the most fun and enlightening things I have ever done. I  think she was one of the first adults to give me full veto power over an idea and mean it. This means a lot because I’m 31 now and still not granted that basic level of autonomy  by some people. I told you all this small stuff to get to the big thing, the thing she probably doesn’t even realize she did, Mrs. Alsup saved my life.

Fast forward to the fifth grade  As wonderful as the fourth grade was that’s how awful the fifth  grade turned to be. The teacher was great, my aide that was evil. Mrs. Ryan had decided to go to school to be a teacher and so I was paired with a new aid entering my fifth-grade year. This woman was verbally and/or  emotionally abusive every single day . She teased me and called me names because  I needed LOTS  of repetition to grasp math concepts. She yelled at me and made  me cry because bladder spasms I couldn’t control  made me have accidents at least once a week, which of course, she had to clean up. She chastised me about my weight, even though I was only eleven and had only just started to come close to weighing the same as other kids my  age. For a while, I wasn’t allowed to play on the playground because she didn’t want to push my chair through shavings. I was permitted to read outside during recess but I think  the other kids thought I was in trouble because I  was sitting with teachers and didn’t talk to me , meaning the baby friendships I had started the previous year fell apart fast.

Why didn’t I tell my teacher? She and my aid were friends outside of  school and I didn’t think she’d believe me. I know that I should have told her anyway. I could’ve gone to Mrs. Alsup, she would have listened  if my new teacher wouldn’t . At  some point that year I seriously considered suicide. The reason I didn’t try apart from worrying about my parents and sister, was the  love and time Mrs. Alsup put into me .

Day 335: Windows 10, Suffragette and Mary Poppins, or How Glynis Johns Introduced Me To Femenism

Earlier this week a power surge during a rainstorm killed the power supply for my desktop computer. The original  plan was to replace the power supply  now and get a new laptop around November/December. Dad came home with the power supply and a new gamer’s laptop .Uncle Paul is going to fix and then inherit my desktop because his laptop has seen better days. If anyone reading this is thinking of upgrading to or starting with Windows X it bears little resemblance to the previous incarnations of the Windows operating system, For instance, it works best with touch screen capable computers, which I didn’t realize I had until Oz, my boyfriend, tapped the screen to take a picture while helping me set it up. Color me floored.  My parents have always been fairly tech savvy, I remember hanging around the net on a  dial up connection via Prodigy when I was eight but touch screen computers and tablets  were things I never thought  I would see.I still need to transfer my speech recognition software to this computer but that’s a fairly simple thing.

I got my first DVD from Netflix this week. Suffragette.  I knew the suffragette movement in Britain had been more militant than its U.S. . I knew vaguely of hunger strikes, women jailed, broken shop windows and small bombs in letter  boxes on street corners. I knew of these things first from the unlikely medium of a Disney film. Remember Mrs. Banks from Mary Poppins? She  was part of the British women’s movement and a lot of her dialogue makes references to it. I found out recently that, when she approached for the part, Glynis Johns almost insisted on her own song in the movie, and that’s how  “Sister Suffragette,”was born. It was because of that song that I first asked my mother what a suffragette was, (I think I was six) and from there I learned about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and the notable women from the American movement.

It was some years later, middle school at least, before I realized that the dramatic extreme things Mrs. Banks had said  were also real. Real things that had happened to real women. Watching Suffragette I saw it and was horrified and humbled all at once. Shocked and stricken at the lengths these women went to reach a goal my generation  and many before me take for granted.

This  coming  Presidential  election has caused me a great deal of sadness and truthfully I had almost decided not to vote this year.  Seeing that movie reminded me that my place in the electorate was bought with a blood price and I will not scorn such a precious gift , no matter how undeserving the candidates.

Day 334:So A Podcast is More Work Than I Thought

I told a friend of mine about my idea for Gimp Radio… She was ecstatic and immediately sent me an article detailing 27 steps for getting a podcast off the ground and recognized by iTunes. It was a lot of information and I think I may have undertaken a much bigger project than I realized but I’m still going to do it. Another friend reminded me of something Mother Teresa once said: “we can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Gimp Radio is my small thing. It’s going to take some time but it’s worth it. The disabled community deserves to have its voice heard its concerns given as much weight as those of our able-bodied neighbors. Historically  we have been told that in order for our concerns to have any validation we must convince an able-bodied person to act as our voice first, it is 2016 and that is a total load of crap. We deserve to have our own stories told in our own voices. That is why I believe Gimp Radio is so important. In the 21st century, I have seen many disabled people try to minimize the space they take up, I have caught myself doing it numerous times. I have the right to be here, I have fought and struggled mightily to master skills that many people take for granted and yet I still apologize for my existence, I have changed routines in my life to better accommodate other people but when I stop and think about how many of those people would change their routines regularly to accommodate me the list is woefully short.

If anybody asks me who my biggest advocate is the answer is always going to be my sister. When we were teenagers and I apologized for needing help, which I did a lot, she would tell me to stop apologizing for things I couldn’t change. She got to the point where if I apologized she would refuse to help me for 5 min. and every time I tried to apologize after that she would add a minute. She still does that and it still drives me crazy but I love her for it.

Gimp Radio is coming. It may take me a year or two to work out all the details but it is coming. I will be overjoyed if five people I don’t know listen to it because even five people make it worth doing again and again and again. If I can fundamentally change the way five people view, interact with, speak to, the disabled community then they can go on and change five more with their own influence and they can change five more, etc. People believe that social revolutions are the results of massive change but every great movement, every revolutionary act, started as a single person doing a small thing with great love.

Author’s Note: The friend who reminded me of Mother Teresa’s words is my friend Beth who I’ve  since known since summer camp and who was also my very first college roommate several years after summer camp . She writes over at In Case of Fire, Use  Stairs about many things including her faith and her take on life with a disability.

Day 333: Gimp Radio or Help Me Name A Podcast

I spent Sunday afternoon listening to National Public Radio and a thought struck me. We, as a community, have always had unique struggles and challenges which we talk about amongst ourselves and our close family and friends. We feel hurt, angry, and sometimes bitter when the able-bodied world at large seemingly ignores our struggles and difficulties. Sure, the people closest to us know and hopefully, try to understand our perspective to the best of their ability and they might pass some of that information on to other people they know but what if the disabled community as a whole had a radio show, a podcast where a group of people with varying disabilities explained and/or discussed social trends and current events that affect people with disabilities. For example one of the first topics could be what does accessibility mean for you? Accessibility means different things to a wheelchair user  then it would to someone who is blind or deaf or is on the autism spectrum. If you asked an able-bodied person the same question chances are they would assume that a wheelchair ramp, grab bars in the bathrooms and maybe wider doors and an elevator makes a place accessible.as far as I know none of the movie theaters in the area in which I live have audio descriptions for the blind to describe the scenes in between the dialogue even though I know technology with exists that can do so. Right now this is just a seed idea but if it takes off I would love to have contributors from around the world, to learn what disability culture looks like in other countries. Right now I’m trying to come up with a name for this podcast. Oz came up with Word On Wheels which I admit is catchy but I would like to have a name that is more inclusive of all disabilities so I hesitate to use Gimp Radio or Crip Radio which are the first two ideas to cross my mind. Another reason I hesitate to use those is because some disabled people might be offended by my using them even though I only mean to reclaim the words that able-bodied people have used as slurs against us. At this point about I will take any and all suggestions, what would you guys name it?

Day 332: Stories from Childhood or Why I support #BlackLivesMatter

 

As far as I know this is not an actual picture of Sugar

 

My family says I have an elephant’s memory. but I do forget things. I can’t even guess what I had for breakfast last week. I remember important things,birthdays anniversaries  but not just dates, anything my mind labels important, though rarely am I aware of this labeling at the time.

I am four years old and we are visiting Mr. and Mrs. Cole, church friends of my grandma, shortly after  my grandpa’s death. They were the first black people I remember knowing. I think Mrs. Cole was the person who gave me my first glass of sweet tea. Their house was small but filled with beautiful antique furniture (Mr. and Mrs. Cole’s house was also my introduction to the proper usage of doilies and coasters) and a beautiful wooden bead curtain that was the absolute definition of adventure when I was four years old.

 

I cannot say for sure if I ever knew what Mr. Cole  did for a living, for some reason my brain says he was an electrician or plumber but I can’t remember how I came to have that information. I thought he was a retired pirate. It was Mrs. Cole’s bead curtain that put the fantastic notion of piracy in my head, that and the fact that I never remember Mr. Cole saying much other than hello when we came to visit. His favorite chair sat in front of the biggest window in the living room so that he was almost always cast in shadow, in fact, it wasn’t until relatively recently that my memory added enough details to recognize him as human rather than as someone formed entirely of shadow. It was his quiet demeanor that convinced me of his former profession. If you had spent your youth as a pirate on the high seas and then decided to settle down you would not talk about yourself much, piracy is, after all, a criminal offense. I believed that he brought home all that beautiful furniture and the wondrous bead curtain as gifts for Mrs. Cole. I did find out much later be the far more mundane story of how she actually got the furniture but I am still quite fond of my outrageous tale.

 

The first biracial person I ever met was a young lady with skin the color of coffee  with cream in it. She had one blue eye and one green and I thought she was gorgeous. She was the niece of one of our neighbors at Fort Bragg who came to visit her cousins every summer. She was the first deaf person I ever personally knew and even though I was horrible at signing we somehow muddle through it because thankfully I could understand more sign than I can actually produce so our conversations might be described as a person who speaks a language fluently talking with a person who only knows the pig Latin version of the language but Tonya was a good sport who never made me feel bad because my physical limitations made it difficult for me to communicate with her. Our conversations very often resembled a game of charades, much to everyone’s amusement.The family who lived right next to us had a cat that totally fascinated Tonya. Sugar was white, polydactyl (he had extra toes)  with one blue eye and one green, just like her. who was also deaf, just like her.  She doted on him every time she visited.

 

It has been years since I’ve seen or spoken with Tonya and Mr. and Mrs. Cole died years ago.Whenever I post or share something supporting #BlackLivesMatter it in their faces that I see first. People whose acquaintance gave me some of my first lessons in kindness, politeness, bravery and adventure. I worry about Tonya on a daily basis. I find myself hoping that wherever she is her disability protects her from the epidemic of madness we are currently living in. I have found myself hoping that people who might otherwise hurt her are careless enough to mistake her for white. I worry every day that instead of being a shield her disability will instead paint a target on her back, be a contributing factor to her victimization. I haven’t seen her cousin Chris in ages either, my neighbor, the boy whose loose tooth I knocked out when I swung wide of the punching bag he was holding for me and hit him instead. The second boy I ever had a crush on, even though he was predictably clueless.Whenever there is some new occurrence of racial violence I tense up, worried that it will be his name under the picture of a young black man  whose face would be unrecognizable were it not for dental records. Every time a light-skinned black woman is assaulted I breathe a sigh of relief that her eyes are the same color. I thank the universe every day that Mr. and Mrs. Cole did not live to see this insanity. These are the people I love. This is why #BlackLivesMatter matters to me.

Day 331:#CripTheVote,Nothing About Us Without Us and #BlackLivesMatter

If you haven’t seen this video yet I encourage you to do so right now. I learned a few things that I didn’t know even though I have been disabled my whole life. I will tell you that it is largely fear of losing my disability check which has kept me and Oz from getting married… What would happen if he got laid off and our family didn’t even have my check to fall back on? My parents routinely refer to him as my fiancée but we’re very careful to avoid such phrasing when talking to someone who works for the Social Security office because we’re afraid they will penalize me for anything that even remotely sounds close to a declaration of intent. The part about it being legal to pay disabled workers far below minimum wage is also true. Goodwill does it all the time and then pat themselves on the back and says that disabled people should appreciate the fact that they have any jobs  at all. I am not making that up the CEO of Goodwill actually said that in an interview I saw within the last two years. A doctor once told me that because of the differences in how my body functions the reason it felt like doing every day normal things felt like it took me 10 times more effort than it took an able-bodied person to do the exact same thing was because it actually did, it wasn’t something made up in my head.

 

If we went by that logic disabled employees would shock most of their able-bodied bosses if they asked to be paid based on the amount of effort it takes them to complete a job. We are not asking for that,  though, we are only asking to be paid comparable wages to those of our able-bodied co-workers. The minimum wage for able-bodied people is arguably not a living wage but it is a whole lot closer than $.18 an hour which is what the Goodwill Corporation gets away with paying some of it disabled employees based on timed “performance evaluations” which consist of putting as many clothes on hangers as possible. Someone standing over them with a stopwatch and they are allowed three mistakes before their pay gets docked. I don’t know about any other physically disabled person but for me personally my spasticity comes out the worst in situations when I feel like I’m being put on the spot which means that if I were their employee the worst time to assume an accurate representation of my abilities would be when someone is standing over me with a stopwatch.

 

Many kinds and well-meaning people have suggested Goodwill as a possible place of employment for me over the years. Prior to learning about how their performance evaluations are done I have always said thank you but I’d rather not, citing the fact that I find their commercials featuring disabled people to be patronizing and smacking of what I would term as a “benefactor complex,” the commercials always seem to say “look at us aren’t we wonderful for deigning to give this inferior person busywork and a pittance of a wage while we exploit them because half of them don’t know any better and the other half are too grateful for the smallest crumb to complain much.” That was before I knew about the practices now I would probably slap someone in the face.

 

In truth, I do not think I have ever felt like a presidential candidate truly shared my concerns. Say all the negative you want about Pres. Obama but when he was during his town meeting tour he helped a caregiver on her work shift so that he could make the time to talk to her. He changed the man’s sheets, made him lunch and had a conversation with both of them. Not a single president before him has done anything like that. Not one. A blind deaf man (who I believe is a lawyer) was invited to the White House and Pres. Obama didn’t even blink when the man requested that they used a special keyboard which would change the type text into braille that the man could then read even though the President had no experience with the device whatsoever prior to meeting this man.

 

The only way I currently see for the White House to be seen as taking the concerns of its disabled citizenry as seriously as they must be taken is to elect Bernie Sanders for president. Donald Trump does not care about anybody but himself and  sure as hell do not care one iota for the disabled community. As for Hillary Clinton I can’t trust her path as far as I can throw her, she may give lip service to the disabled communities but it is mediocre at best and she only started doing so to keep up with Bernie.

 

To able-bodied people who may be thinking why should I care about these issues? I say two things… 1 Someday they will be your issues too,you are one illness, one accident, one choice, from being a member of our community. Perfect health is a fleeting and fickle thing. 2 We may be the largest minority in the world but we are still considered a minority. We have been screaming for equality for years that the able-bodied majority talks over us all the time. We need able-bodied allies willing to tell people to sit down shut up and listen. The great thing about alliances if they work both ways, help me fight my fights and I will be in the trenches with you over yours. The 1% has a great majority of the 99% fooled  into thinking that labels really matter, there are people within the 1% who will step on our necks and crush us like ants and they don’t care what color our skin is. There are so many good and necessary movements going on right now that can only be made stronger if we collaborated, if my movement became your movement in your movement became mine.

 

Black Lives Matter. Every bit as much as mine does. Police violence against people of color for no other reason than they are people of color is wrong. As citizens of the United States, we talk a lot about freedom but the sad fact is that some of us are much better talking than walking. Our history has given us this idea that all men are created  equal in this country. The sad fact is that it has fallen short and forgotten to include a great many of its citizens. I sure as heck did not feel as though I am treated the same as an able-bodied person. It’s 2016 and women still are not paid on par with men who have the same skill set. That’s not  equality. A high school cafeteria worker shot while reaching for his license and car registration just because he also happen to have a firearm which was legally registered to him in the same glove box as the car registration is not equality. For a long time I have done my best to keep my blog politically neutral but sometimes all silence does is help the wrong side win so far an indeterminate future my blog will be exactly as political as I feel it needs to be. Nothing About Us Without Us. All Of Us.

Day 330: This Public Service Announcement about Disabilities Has Been Brought to You by the Tennessee Renaissance Festivaland Queen Elizabeth I

 

ren faire
Gideon and I and Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth who is explaining to a litte girl off camera who had petted Gideon without asking what a service dog is and why it is never ok to pet one without asking first! Huzzah for community support!

Rarely do I  consider my wheelchair an object which gives me a certain level of privilege and I’m not referring the kinds of things a lot of able people see as privileges like being first to board a plane.  I’m talking about the kind of privilege that people refer to when they address white privlage or socio-economic privlage. Believe it or not there is a certain  privlage that comes with being visibly disabled. Surprised? Me too.

Tennessee holds its annual  Renaissance Faire every weekend of May. This year was the first chance I had to go in years plus there was the added bonus of getting to go with a childhood friend who offered to drive us out there as a birthday present before she moved out of state.Dear Friend struggles with mental health issues and has a service dog to help her deal with them. Dear Friend is also not noticeably disabled other than her mental health. The employees and actors of the Tennessee Ren Faire were wonderfully kind to both of us as far as I saw. Many folks went out of their way to ask if Gideon had enough water which was a good thing because somehow extra water didn’t make it into the day pack. (Bad SD partner  bad)  It wasn’t until driving home and talking with Dear Friend that I realized she had spent a good portion of the time we weren’t together being hassled because other visitors to the Faire assumed that she didn’t need a service dog and that K*  was just a pet she snuck past in spite of the clearly stated no pets policy.

DF and I  have known each other since she and my sister started the eighth grade together. Her issues are just as real and ever present as mine are even though people who do not know her as well as my family does may not see them at all. To those people who would demand proof of a psychiatric disability from a complete stranger I have more than a few things to say. The first one is how dare you? You have no idea the kind of road a person has to travel to feel up to doing whatever “normal person” thing you happen to encounter them doing that day. My friend and I plan this particular trip for weeks in part because she has difficulty in crowds. She did it because it was something important to me. She probably knew that some ignorant fellow patron would gripe that she didn’t “look” disabled and it wasn’t fair that she got to bring her dog while a complete stranger was so inconvenienced because they had to leave their dog (who has probably never been in a crowd half as large and therefore would have very likely been freaking out anyway) at home. The second thing I have to say is that disability whether it be physical or cognitive or psychiatric has no particular look. In that way disabilities are similar to chess, there are an infinite number of chess games. For every disability with a label there are an infinite number of permutations for how that disability may manifest. I know of some people who are obviously disabled but whose doctors cannot find a label which includes all their idiosyncratic difficulties and therefore they’re given only the vaguest terms like “motor delay” or “dysfunction” or “brain injury”. I know other people who have multiple diagnoses to describe their difficulties each including at least two three syllable words.

 

The third thing I would like to say to people who demand proof of a stranger’s disability you be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. My personal disability is fairly straight forward I was born two months and 10 days premature at a hospital that isn’t much more than glorified Band-Aid station. They had no neonatal intensive care unit to speak of and so I had to be transported to Dallas which was two hours away. Whenever anyone asks I say it was oxygen deprivation which caused my brain damage but in truth nobody is quite certain whether it was oxygen deprivation or too much oxygen during the ambulance ride which caused the brain damage which resulted in my disability. The point I am trying to illustrate by telling you that story is that each persons disability and the back story for it are extremely personal things which some people are more comfortable sharing then others. I have been in public speaking situations about my disability several times in my life so for me personally sharing isn’t a problem. I can talk for several hours and you can ask pretty much any question you could possibly think of and so long as you were asking it from a place of genuine curiosity and an effort to understand and not some sense of voyeuristic entitlement that makes me think you believe I owe you the answer, I will answer with as much detail as I can muster, which in some cases maybe way more then you expected. Every person with a disability is an individual and it should not be assumed that they are comfortable with being an open book.

Author’s Note: Dear Friend is used in place of the person’s name.  K is the first of her dogs name.